Here’s a fun team to contemplate while you drink your morning brew.
In a rugby league season with no international matches having taken place, it made a lot of sense to name a Kangaroos merit team to celebrate what could have been in a more normal year.
While debates may rage about the players included in the team, overall it was a nice idea on a number of fronts.
First, it was a nice tip of the cap to those selected on having performed well during the NRL season and State of Origin series.
It was also a nice touch to introduce Gallagher as the new naming partner of the Kangaroos and give them a bit of visibility at a time when they otherwise wouldn’t have. And 2020 has shown us more than ever the importance of getting sponsors on board.
Third, it was a good little idea to just keep a bit of fan engagement going on during the off-season. I mean, here we are talking about rugby league right before Christmas!
It also helps steer the narrative of the game a bit more positively and away from the Jack De Belin and Jarryd Hayne stories that have been the prominent mainstream rugby league headlines recently.
But it also got me thinking. Since we’re looking at what could have been, then why not go a little bit further?
I decided to have a little fun and look at merit teams for Tonga and Samoa.
Before everyone gets started, these are merely ‘what if’ teams, clear of any current eligibilities and player preferences.
Players like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Payne Haas are clearly not going to stray from representing the Kiwis and Kangaroos, but let’s just suspend reality for now and push the boat out, because there could be some serious firepower in these squads.
Samoa merit team
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. David Nofoaluma
3. Joseph Leilua
4. Stephen Crichton
5. Brian To’o
6. Chanel Harris-Tavita
7. Jarome Luai
8. Josh Papali’i
9. Danny Levi
10. Payne Haas
11. Luciano Leilua
12. Jaydn Su’A
13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
14. Junior Paulo
15. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
16. Tyrone May
17. Jazz Tevaga
Just missed the cut: Ken Maumalo, Marty Taupau, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Jamayne Isaako, Anthony Milford, Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
Tonga merit team
1. Will Hopoate
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Kotoni Staggs
4. Michael Jennings
5. David Fusitu’a
6. Tesi Niu
7. Tuimoala Lolohea
8. Addin Fonua-Blake
9. Manase Fainu*
10. Siosiua Taukeiaho
11. Felise Kaufusi
12. Tyson Frizell
13. Jason Taumalolo
14. Siliva Havili
15. Tevita Pangai Jr
16. Siosifa Talakai
17. David Fifita
Just missed the cut: Sitili Tupouniua, Andrew Fifita, Eliesa Katoa, Moeaki Fotuaika, Tevita Funa, Sione Katoa.
So, as you can see, these squads would be stacked and if they can get anywhere near being able to select these teams for next year, the race for the Rugby League World Cup could really open up.
Fiji could also look serious, with the likes of Api Koroisau, Viliame Kikau and even Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
An emerging Cook Islands squad has eligible players like Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Zane Tetevano, or even the mere possibility of Joseph Manu.
Granted, such squads would heavily impact Australia and New Zealand, while in reality these teams will likely have first dibs on a bunch of talent – not to mention other variables like injuries, form, suspension and legal issues (*Manase Fainu).
But as the lead-up to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup showed, all you need is a couple of big names to start representing their heritage and all of a sudden everything can change.