Newly appointed Toa Samoa head coach Ben Gardiner has named his first squad for the 2023 Pacific Championship.
The 21 man squad includes a mix of veterans and newbies as Gardiner names 11 hopeful debutants.
Headlining the squad are NRL grand final winners Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Izack Tago and Spencer Leniu.
The Penrith Panthers representatives played a big role in Samoa’s Rugby League World Cup success and will look to replicate that in the coming fixtures.
Joining them are recent Broncos NRL grand finalists, Jesse Arthars and and Keenan Palasia.
Palasia was part of Samoa’s side last year that took on Cook Islands in the Pacific test round. Arthars has starred for the Broncos all year on the wing and is in line to debut for Samoa at the Pacific Championship.
A big name missing from the side is Panthers five-eight Jarome Lua’i.
He is unavailable after aggravating a shoulder injury in the NRL’s grand final last weekend.
Ben Gardiner has had to call upon Daejarn Asi of the Parramatta Eels and Bankstown Bulldogs teenager Karl Oloapu to cover for Lua’i.
The exciting young duo will likely be Samoa’s halves for the upcoming Championship with talks of even Stephen Crichton spending some time at five-eight.
Asi and Oloapu have yet to represent Samoa and will look to debut in October.
Samoa will once again be led by Parramatta Eels skipper Junior Paulo. Paulo deserves the captains armband after leading Samoa to a historic World Cup final last year.
New South Wales prop Stefani Utoikamanu has put his hand up to represent Samoa for the first time.
The 23 year old has had quite the year for West Tigers despite the side’s last place finish. He still managed to debut for NSW and looks to do the same for Samoa.
Also joining the squad are North Queensland cowboys stars Luciano Leilua, Heilum Luki and Murray Taulagi. Taulagi was in the Australian Squad that beat Samoa in the 2022 Rugby league World Cup.
Melbourne Storm’s exciting up-and-coming star fullback Su’alauvi Fa’alogo has also made Gardiner’s list.
The experienced Young Tonumaipea is named alongside Greg Marzhew, Terrell May and Manly Sea Eagles powerhouse forward Stefano Utoikamanu.
West Tigers young gun Justin Matamua also features in the squad alongside Manly Sea Eagles young talent Gordon Chan Kum Tong who made his NRL Debut this year.
Toa Samoa are set to play Australia on Saturday 14th of October in Townsville, Australia followed by New Zealand the following week on the 21st in Auckland.
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