The Country Firsts and U16’s completed a tour of Samoa in October, with players and staff featuring as part of the celebrations of 30 years of Samoan Rugby League by participating in local activities and conducting coaching clinics for local Women’s Rugby League sides.
Country’s matches against the Samoan Residents were played as curtain-raisers to the historic Toa Samoa v Fiji Bati Test Match; which was the first International Test Match to be played on Samoan soil at Apia Park.
Prior to their matches against Samoa, Country travelled to the island of Savai’i, where they became the first international sides to play on the island, when they took on the Savai’I Residents and U16’s.
The Country U16’s got the tour off to a winning start, with a hard-fought 36-4 victory over their local opponents. Country Hooker Tyke Kemp (East Coast Dolphins) claimed a double, with Tyronne Harrison and Tomasi Baralivala providing tremendous go-forward for their teammates.
The Country Firsts proved far too strong for the Savai’i side with a convincing 54-0 victory. In a strong team effort Marcel Ikinofo (Newcastle), Blake Gallen (Newcastle) and Jason Raper (Illawarra) stood out with dominant performances.
A highlight of the tour was the opportunity for our Country sides to conduct training sessions against the Toa Samoa and Fiji Bati Test sides in the lead-up to the matches at Apia Park. This was a wonderful experience for our players to take the field with many NRL stars and test their skills against some of the best players in our game. Country Rugby League would like to thank both the Samoan and Fiji sides for this opportunity.
The matches at Apia Park saw a vocal crowd in attendance, with many fans turning up to see the curtain raisers and Country sides take on the Samoan Residents.
The Country U16’s got off to the perfect start, with a couple of quick tries unsettling their opponents. Second-Rower Jacob Conlan (East Coast Dolphins) and Front-Rower Matt Burton (Western Rams) were dominant up-front, allowing for the Country backline to capitalise on their momentum with a number of tries towards the end of the first-half.
The second-half was a closer affair, with both sides competing hard and playing good football and Samoa crossing the try-line twice to the delight of the home crowd.
Ultimately it was Country who proved too strong with a 46-10 victory that was set-up by their strong opening to the game. Congratulations to both sides for the spirit in which the game was played and special thanks to the Samoan U16’s, who performed the traditional ‘Sipi Tau’ for our players prior to kick-off.
The Country Firsts took the field against the Samoan Residents and an expected physical encounter was delivered in the first twenty minutes, with Samoa dominating possession to score the first points of the game. Deft touches from Blake Gallen (Newcastle) and Willie Heta (Newcastle) produced quick tries for Country to regain the lead before Samoa crashed over again before half-time to reduce the deficit.
The intensity resumed in the second-half with both sides fighting hard to gain momentum, before strong charges from the Country forwards and quick-thinking from Heta once again created tries for Country to extend their lead and take control of the match.
In the end it was Country who ran out 36-12 winners against a committed Samoan side who never stopped testing their opponents throughout the match. Illawarra’s Blake Phillips was named Country’s Man of the Match for his tremendous efforts in oppressive conditions.
Although Country were victorious in both matches, the final score-lines weren’t a true indication of the toughness of the contests, with several players claiming them to be the ‘hardest games they had ever played’.
Congratulations to coaches Jamie Feeney (Firsts) and Andrew Ryan (U16’s) and their players for their tremendous efforts and dedication in assisting with the development of Rugby League in Samoa. Special thanks must also go to Samoa Rugby League for their assistance with the tour and the wonderful opportunities which they provided our Country players.
Country Firsts 2016
1. Wayne Bremner (Illawarra)
2. Jason Raper (Illawarra)
3. Stewart Mills (Illawarra)
4. Josh Charles (Newcastle)
5. Marcel Ikinofo (Newcastle)
6. William Heta (Newcastle)
7. Jake Fitzpatrick (Central Coast)
8. Tim Burrell (Central Coast)
9. Chris Adams (Newcastle)
10. Jake Finn (Newcastle)
11. Blake Phillips (Illawarra)
12. Ben Stevens (Central Coast)
13. Blake Gallen (Newcastle)
14. Joel Johnson (Illawarra)
15. Josh Schmiedel (Newcastle)
16. Brett Soloman (Canberra)
17. Steve McCullum (Illawarra)
18. Ben Roose (Newcastle)
Coach: Jamie Feeney