Rugby League: International calendar would see Samoa challenge NZ, Australia declares coach

A fair and equal international calendar would see the Pacific Islands join rugby league’s established elite, Toa Samoa coach Matt Parish insists.

Traditionally, international league has been dominated by the supposed tier-one nations, with test windows and global tournaments favouring the likes of Australia, New Zealand and England.

But Mate Ma'a Tonga's emergence at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup has shown that the opportunity exists for Pacific nations to compete.

Despite their off-field woes, Tonga have registered wins over the Kiwis, Australia and Great Britain, and loom as dark horses to win the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, scheduled for England.

Parish tells Newshub that Samoa could emulate Tonga, but the Pacific nation is hurt by the lack of international opportunities for the smaller teams.

Samoa have also been hampered by players like Ken Maumalo, Isaac Liu and Josh Papalii opting to represent New Zealand or Australia.

But Parish is confident that the creation of a genuine international calendar for all nations would see a distinct change in the shape of rugby league at test level.

"We haven't realised our potential yet," Parish says. "But part of the problem has been... players have been committed to Australia and New Zealand, who have Samoan heritage.

"But the problem we've got there is [that] there's no international calendar for anyone at the moment and before that, the only international calendar that was put out 2-3 years in advance only involved Australia, New Zealand and England, which I think was grossly unfair to all the Pacific nations.

"There's talk now, particularly with the emergence of Tonga, but obviously I think Samoa would be competing with them, as will Fiji and PNG [Papua New Guinea] to that matter too, even the emergence of Cook Islands.

"If there's an international calendar that involves all nations, not just the top three, and there's a fair payment schedule for international players that's even and not unbalanced as it is at the moment, I'd like to think that players will consider playing for Samoa, and not Australia and New Zealand."

Despite the disappointment of losing out on players who've chosen to play for Australia or New Zealand, Parish understands the current reality needs to be taken into account.

Players can earn astronomical sums playing for tier-one sides, ahead of the nations of their birth or even heritage.

The international calendar would not only change that, but begin to swing things towards a more competitive landscape for the Pacific.

"It's hard to begrudge a player that's going to get $20,000 a test match playing for Australia," Parish adds. "He's looking to set up his family and do the right thing. 

“I would never begrudge that opportunity for a young man. They've all got family commitments.

"But if there's an international calendar that involves all nations and there's a fair payment scheme, i could see no reason why Samoa couldn't attract players that have chosen to play for Australia or New Zealand in the past."

Elsewhere, Parish says that although nothing is in place, he would welcome the addition of stars Sonny Bill Williams, and brothers Andrew and Matty Johns to his coaching ranks.

Matty Johns has declared his interest in the role, with Parish happy for the trio to be involved leading into this year's World Cup.

"As to date, we've had no contact from either Matty and Andrew Johns, or Sonny Bill," Parish tells Newshub. "From my point of view, I'm extremely excited that they've expressed an interest in being part of the Samoan World Cup campaign, if it goes ahead.

"I'm very hopeful of reaching out to them in the next couple of days to confirm their interest to see what kind of commitment they want to give. It's exciting news to have people of the calibre of that wanting to be involved with Samoa.

"Sonny would be invaluable. What he's done in sport and as an athlete is just incredible.

"To have someone of his awe involved with our team, and to have him mentor our players - and particularly our leaders and create some good leaders amongst our playing group - would be unbelievable.

"It would be incredible."