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Cultures clash as Samoa chase historic win
While Australia, New Zealand and England sit firmly atop the international rugby league podium, the efforts of Samoa in recent years suggests the Pacific nation are well on the way towards becoming an elite squad. Boasting a lineup to rival any of the representative teams to play over the weekend, coach Matt Parish will be acutely aware of the challenge posed by England, but also stressing the significance of the occasion should Samoa prevail on Saturday night. Coming within an inch of upsetting the Kiwis and English during the 2014 Four Nations, the Samoans have strengthened their squad over the past three years, fielding a forward pack sure to cause plenty of trouble for their opponents, along with a depth of classy backs that can't even accommodate premiership winners Ricky Leutele or Kirisome Auva'a. Among the highlights of the side, superstar playmaker Anthony Milford has made himself available for the fixture in a move which could see Samoa record their first ever win over a top tier nation.
Following a bitterly disappointing showing at last year's Four Nations which only yielded an unconvincing win over Scotland, Wayne Bennett will be hoping the mid-year test provides the English with the platform to launch a bid for the World Cup. Naming a similar squad to last year, Australians will recognise the likes of the Burgess brothers, Josh Hodgson, James Graham and Elliot Whitehead, while getting the chance to witness some of the stars of Super League in action, including Sean O'Loughlin and prolific try-scorer Ryan Hall. Other familiar faces include veteran Chris Heighington who returns to the international arena after a six-year absence, while Queensland representative Chris McQueen will make his debut after switching allegiances over the off-season. Performing well against Pacific nations in recent years, the English will fancy their chances on Saturday night, however they will need to ensure a strong start if they are to overcome a Samoan outfit chasing history.
Last meeting: Four Nations, 2014 - England 32 Samoa 26
Who to watch: Announcing himself with a star-making turn at the 2013 World Cup, Anthony Milford has the opportunity to lead Samoa to their most famous win on Saturday night. Having gone from strength to strength under Wayne Bennett's tutelage at the Broncos, the 22-year-old will be looking to capitalise on the platform laid by one of the biggest forward packs ever assembled and embarrass his club coach in the process. In so many previous test matches, the Samoans have matched the size of their opponents only to be undone by the skill from the likes of Thurston, Johnson or Hodgson; but in Anthony Milford, Samoa possess a player with the flair and creativity to elevate the pacific nation from international minnow to world class heavyweight. It may be misguided to pin the chances of a side on one player, but if Samoa manages to down the English, rest assured Milford will be at the forefront of the victory.
Debuting against Samoa three years ago, Josh Hodgson has transformed from a little known rake to one of the premier hookers in the world. Playing a pivotal role in the Raiders transformation, the 27-year-old will relish the opportunity play alongside his fellow countrymen on Saturday, as the English look to lay the foundations for a tilt at the World Cup at the end of the year. With a great deal of instability among the English spine following the injury withdrawals of Gareth Widdop and George Williams, expect Hodgson to take on the burden of responsibility in leading England around the park. Much like the Samoans, the English boast a formidable pack of forwards but have lacked the class to overcome the international elite in recent years; but following his decision to move to Australia, Hodgson has not only drawn comparisons to the games greatest ever hooker, but managed to finish on top of him on occasions.
The favourite: Despite a poor showing at the Four Nations last year and over half the squad having less than a week to acclimatise to the Australian climate, England are expected to be too good.
My tip: They came within an inch of downing the Kiwis three years ago, but on Saturday night Samoa will record a win long to be remembered. Samoa by 13.
1. Peter Mata'utia 2. Ken Maumalo 3. Joseph Leilua 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Anthony Milford 7. Nu Brown 8. Sam Kasiano 15. Suaia Matagi 10. Junior Paulo 11. Sione Mata'utia 12. Leeson Ah Mau 13. Josh Mcguire 14. John Asiata 15. Pita Godinet 16. Sauaso Sue 17. Herman Essese 18. Bunty Afoa
1. Stefan Ratchford 2. Jermaine McGillvary 3. Kallum Watkins 4. Zak Hardaker 5. Ryan Hall 6. Kevin Brown 7. Luke Gale 8. Sam Burgess 9. Josh Hodgson 10. James Graham 11. Mike McMeeken 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Sean O'Loughlin 14. Chris Hill 15. Chris Heighington 16. Chris McQueen 17. Thomas Burgess
Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis, Ricky MacFarlane; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;