Samoa's players celebrate after winning the 2021 rugby league World Cup men's semi-final match with England
London (AFP) - Samoa captain Junior Paulo vowed Saturday that his team would go all out in their preparations for a historic Rugby League World Cup final against Australia after a thrilling last-four victory over England.
Stephen Crichton hit an extra-time drop-goal to clinch a scintillating 27-26 win over the tournament hosts at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
Next Saturday’s final against the reigning champions, in Manchester’s Old Trafford, is “the biggest game in Samoan history”, said Paulo, who enjoyed an immense game in defence and attack against the English.
“It’s enormous,” the giant prop said. “We knew the impact we were going to have on Samoans, what we’ve been able to create it doesn’t go unnoticed by the players.
“We’ve still got a week ahead… the war is not over.
“We have to enjoy the win tonight and then we have another week just to prep. There’s only one week to go. It’s all about the journey, and the journey continues.”
Paulo could potentially be cited, having received a yellow card for a tip tackle.
England coach Shaun Wane was quick to argue in his favour, saying the final should not be deprived of such a player given accepted tournament refereeing standards.
Samoa coach Matt Parish agreed, saying there had been no malicious intent and he released Tom Burgess rather than drive him into the ground.
Parish, under the cosh from pundits after suffering a 60-6 defeat by England in the tournament opener, said the Samoa dressing room was “inspirational, passionate”.
“It’s what this game’s all about: passion, pride, it’s unbelievable for these guys. We’ve had a few things that have gone against us, five guys have gone home and people had plenty to say four weeks ago, ‘get the plane home’.
“To put Samoa in a World Cup final, a country that’s a small dot in the ocean, it’s incredible.”
- Only brothers and enemies -
Samoa’s Jarome Luai, who produced a man-of-the-match performance at stand-off, will be up against Penrith Panthers teammate Nathan Cleary next weekend, both fresh from having won the NRL Grand Finals together.
“There are no friends on the pitch, only brothers and enemies,” Luai said.
“We have to enjoy this moment and see what we can do next week.”
England coach Wane was brutal in his assessment of the result at the Emirates, blaming a lack of composure and deviating from a proven gameplan.
“We were not good enough, the best team won. I’m gutted, absolutely wounded,” Wane said.
“I was never happy in that game, we were below our standards. There is some soul searching going on from us staff. The players have been great, I don’t doubt their effort.
“Samoa were the best team today. We didn’t do the right things at the right time and I blame myself.
“We have to be better, this is not good enough. I blame me. We have to be better, semi-final is not good enough.”
Wane added: “It was small details today that cost us dearly. They had better composure, we were just not good enough and on the biggest stage possible.
“We needed to do things that worked for us. We went away from things that worked for us.”
Looking ahead to the final, Wane said “it’ll be game on, Australia are a good team… but Samoa have some very good individuals”.
England skipper Sam Tomkins said there were a “lot of disappointed men in that dressing room”.
“Australia will go into the final as strong favourites and deservedly so,” said Tomkins.
The full-back praised the choice of Samoan players to follow the ‘heritage’ path, opting to turn out for the Pacific Island teams rather then trying to represent Australia or New Zealand, where they might have been born and raised.
“It’s really opened up the international game.”