17 Nov 2022
Samoa coach Parish hails the impact of Luai
From NRL rookie in 2017 to three player of the match awards five years later
By James Toney
Matt Parish is keen to stress Samoa are more than a one man team, if even Jarome Luai's performances have dragged them into their first Rugby League World Cup final.
Luai arrived in England fresh, if a little bashed up, from back-to-back NRL Premiership wins with Penrith Panthers and has continued where he left off.
After a lacklustre display in the 60-6 defeat that opened their tournament against hosts England, the 25-year-old has been an unstoppable force.
He is the fulcrum around which Samoa have staged one of sport's great comebacks, banking three player of the match performances in their last four games, including a stellar best on ground show in a dramatic semi-final revenge mission against England in London.
And Samoa coach Parish believes the foundations were laid five years ago, when Tyrone May's late injury gave him a World Cup debut, the only member of the team without NRL experience.
Luai claimed he thought his call-up then was a prank and while little went right, two defeats and a draw seeing Samoa dispatched in the group stages, no-one is laughing now, after he was named in both the men's and dream team of the tournament.
"He's had an amazing tournament but so have other players," said Parish.
"He's won three player of the match prizes out of five games and he has been unbelievable for us.
"Jarome’s been exceptional on and off the field. His growth has been incredible as a player and a man. You could see in 2017 that he was a very confident young man. A lot of people get the wrong perception of him because he plays with so much confidence.
"However, what has brought us to this point is the team effort. I'm so proud of our progress and how we've grown in every game. And we've got a lot more growing to do to compete against the Kangaroos."
Samoa have never beaten Australia in their three previous internationals - indeed they've scored just 28 points to the defending champions' 156.
They have got nothing to lose at Old Trafford after reaching their first final, while Australia coach Mal Meninga knows only winning the Paul Barrière Trophy for the third consecutive time will be considered a success.
"The expectation is we are expected to win, that's a burden we always carry with this Kangaroos jersey," he said.
"I wouldn't say Samoa are underdogs, they've played really good rugby league and it's not how you start the tournament, it's how you finish it.
"We aren't underestimating them and we've full respect for them and we will need to be at our best to win it.
"All 24 players have bought into what we needed to do on and off the field, it's been a happy camp. The challenge is to get the cohesion but I felt we've done that really well. I'm really happy with where we are."
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets