Controversial RLWC clash buildup unites Samoa and Tonga
6 November, 2017, 12:00 am
Much was made of the madness among fans in the lead-up to Samoa-Tonga Rugby League World Cup clash at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday night.
However, it didn’t boil over in Hamilton at all. In fact, it brought the two Pacific Island nations together as all of the players huddled with their arms linked in solidarity before kick-off.
Together they prayed, in front of a raucous crowd that was dominated by the red of Tonga, before dissipating to lay down their challenges to each other.
The Sipi Tau and Siva Tau were performed simultaneously and met with thunderous applause from the thousands in attendance, who again made their presence felt during the national anthems, creating an atmosphere of noise, colour and passion that has rarely be seen in rugby league in the southern hemisphere.
Centre Michael Jennings, who scored two tries in the first half for Tonga in their 32-18 win, said that the atmosphere was unbelievable.
“I think you all felt it from the sideline and I sure felt it on the field,” he said.
“Emotionally, I’ve never felt like that; I couldn’t compare that with anything.”
Following a hat-trick against Scotland last weekend, the former New South Wales and Australian representative is the leading try scorer of the tournament with five.
He said it was easy for the Tongan team to gel.
“It doesn’t matter where everyone has come from, New Zealand or Australia, just playing for Tonga is what brings us all together.”
It wasn’t just emotional for the players, the fans felt it too.
Among the painted faces, masks, wigs and even Spiderman costumes inside the stadium was John Otuhiva, proudly wearing his Samoan strip.
Otuhiva made the trip down to Hamilton from Meremere and said that it was well worth it.
“Even though the traffic was backed up, it was good to see everyone mixing and mingling,” he said.
“The atmosphere felt good.”
Otuhiva said that it was a rare occasion for Tongans and Samoans to get together.
“For all of the Pacific Islanders to get together like this, it takes my breath away,” he said.
“This happens like, once every 20 years , so when it does, it’s a really good feeling.”
The result didn’t go his way, but Otuhiva said it was humbling to watch both teams come together after the events of the past week.
“That’s what it’s all about, getting together and enjoying the game,” he said.