Players may have to take a stand in the club versus country stakes to help ensure the future of Pacific Tests, Samoa captain Frank Pritchard has warned.
Samoa’s thrilling 18-16 win over Tonga on the Gold Coast on Saturday night made the strongest case yet for the Pacific Test double header to be at least an annual event.
Earlier, Fiji overcame a bold Papua New Guinea 22-10.
In a tackle Samoa coach Matt Parish claimed “typified their spirit”, Pritchard and Sam Kasiano’s desperate cover tackle on a try-bound Jorge Taufua in the dying minutes ultimately denied Tonga an upset.
Parish was all smiles – until the Pacific Tests’ future came up.
He admitted the Pacific Test concept may be sabotaged by NRL clubs not making players available.
Asked if the double header should stay, Parish said: “It depends if international rugby league just wants three teams in their World Cup every year.
“There’s no doubt these teams can compete with England, New Zealand and Australia if they had a fair rub of the green.”
Pritchard believed it may come down to players standing up to their clubs to help the Pacific Test cause.
“At the end of the day the club is paying them but if they are confident in playing for their country they have to stand up and make the call,” Pritchard said.
“But in saying that if both parties come to an agreement and let them play then it will let the game grow.
“It just would be good to have more of these games for the Polynesians in the NRL.
“But at the end of the day it is up to the NRL clubs to release them.”
Pritchard believed Newcastle centre Joey “BJ” Leilua had already begun to lead the way.
“BJ turned down City to play for Samoa – he has my respect for that,” he said.
Parish hoped NRL clubs could see the benefit of releasing their players after the likes of Broncos recruit Anthony Milford blossomed at the 2013 World Cup.
“Young guys go back better players after playing alongside these guys,” he said.
“Anthony Milford had a sensational World Cup for us – you don’t think he is a better player coming off that?”
But Parish said he would have no problem if players used the Pacific Tests as a springboard to State of Origin selection.
“I would be the first on the phone to congratulate them,” he said.
Samoa are world No.4 after their 2014 Four Nations stint but were kept honest by world No.16 Tonga who have been starved of internationals, playing just one Test last year.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf said there had been talk of an end-of-year Pacific clash but nothing more.
“There needs to be something for us at the end of this year and that this becomes regular each year – we have shown that we can compete,” he said.