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Pacific Championships: Toa Samoa fans backing the boys in blue ahead of Kiwis game

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

Toa Samoa rugby league team thank Kiwi fans, ready for the big weekend

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Samoan rugby league team Toa Samoa are officially in town and are feeling pumped ahead of their big game against the Kiwis this weekend.

The team has already been welcomed by legions of fans who turned up at Victoria Park, in central Auckland, this week - decked out in Samoan blue and red and armed with the Pacific nation’s flag.

A number of well-known Samoan music artists also performed at the event, including Australian-Samoan rapper Lisi, American-Samoan US songstress Tenelle and Samoan-Kiwi artists Poetik and Wayno.

At a press conference in downtown Auckland today, players were all smiles and looking positive ahead of their match at Eden Park on Saturday.

Toa Samoa rugby league fans turn out to show their support for the boys at a fan day in Auckland. Photo / Toa Samoa

Coach Ben Gardiner said he was hopeful they would do well after going over mistakes that were made in last weekend’s 32-12 loss to the Kangaroos, in Townsville, for the inaugural Pacific Championships.

“That’s why we have so many ex-players, as well, because we have so many debutants and it’s important to understand what test matches are about.

Hundreds of people turned out to see the Toa Samoa boys at Victoria Park, central Auckland, ahead of Saturday's big game. Photo / Toa Samoa

“It’s high energy and a lot of fun. That would be some of the similarities,” he said.

“The Samoan part of it and culture are different here.”

The other unique aspects of the team were the commitment and prayers the team shared - as well as hymns they used to help guide the group, he said.

Gardiner - sporting a traditional ie faitaga (formal lavalava for men) - acknowledged how the team had impacted him personally and vice-versa.

“It feels quite comfortable,” he said of his ie faitaga.

“In normal life, I’d wear pants. It’s part of the role. If the coach can’t do it, the players won’t do it. So being able to facilitate it and to show the boys that we support and appreciate the culture.”

Penrith Panthers superstar Spencer Leniu is among those players with a special connection to Aotearoa. His grandparents live in Māngere, South Auckland.

He said this will be the first time he plays an NRL game in New Zealand and is excited because he will be playing in front of his grandparents.

“My grandparents are from 275,” he said, referring to Māngere’s phone code.

Saturday’s match kicks off at 6pm. It will come after the NZ Kiwis A takes on Tonga A at 1.30pm and then Kiwi Ferns and Tonga at 3.45pm.

Hero image: Samoa's Junior Paulo speaks ahead of their game against the Kiwis at Eden Park on Saturday. Photo / NZHerald

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