Expansionist Blog: Joseph Paulo believes Samoa are bridging the gap on tier-one nations

Drew Darbyshire

Joseph Paulo insists Samoa have world class talent and are not far off following in the footsteps of Tonga and putting their own stamp on the international scene.

The 31-year-old, who has joined Super League side St Helens for 2019, has earned 11 caps for Samoa since making his international bow back in 2007

Born in New Zealand to an American Samoan mother, Jane, and Samoan father, Aukuso, Paulo came through the ranks at NRL outfit Penrith Panthers.

Paulo has also enjoyed spells at Parramatta Eels and Cronulla Sharks in his ten-year spell in the NRL, making a total of 166 first-grade appearances.

He is highly regarded in the NRL, but also on the international stage, having represented Samoa and also USA, due to his mother’s birthplace. He has represented the Hawks on six occasions, being their standout player at the 2013 World Cup.

“People tease me because I’ve played for a few different countries!” Paulo joked.

“I’ve played for the Australian Schoolboys, the Junior Kiwis, America and Samoa – but I’m pretty lucky that my family have a lot of history and heritage behind them, which I am very proud to represent.

“I was pretty much raised as a Samoan. My family speak to me in Samoan back home, so that’s my culture but with my mum being American, I had the opportunity to play for them and train in New York and it was an amazing adventure for us.

“We had a bit of success in the World Cup in 2013, so it was awesome to be a part of that and play with the American lads. The great thing about rugby league is the people you meet and the friendships you make.”

Moving onto his Samoan background, Paulo played for Toa Samoa in the 2008 and 2017 World Cups, along with a number of qualifying matches and mid-season Tests.

From just speaking to Paulo for 10 minutes, it’s clear that representing his heritage means more to him than anything.

Tonga have become international superstars since the 2017 tournament, with the likes of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita choosing to play for the Mate Ma’a rather than New Zealand and Australia respectively.

Samoa boast as many top-level players as what Tonga do, so why have Samoa not kicked off as well as their Pacific island counterparts in recent years?

“It’s a tough one because we have got the same calibre of players and we have got the right personnel so it’s just a case of making it work on the day,” Paulo admitted.

“I don’t know how long it will take to get up there with the tier-one countries. I feel like we were close in the Four Nations in 2014 and we only lost to the Kiwis the last minute, so we aren’t far away from them.

“I know a lot of other world-class players are keen to play for Samoa and you can see the difference it makes when you add world-class forwards like Fifita to a team.

“It makes other players want to represent their country, so hopefully you’ll start to see the gap come a bit tighter between Samoa and the top nations in the next couple of years.”

Samoa dropped one place in the world rankings following their below par World Cup tournament in 2017, having not made it through the group stages.

But with Samoa now boasting a team with the likes of Anthony Milford, Tim Lafai, Peter Mata’utia, Jarome Luai, Junior Paulo, Josh Papalii and Frank Pritchard – Paulo believes there is no reason why they can’t achieve success at the highest level.

“When you compare our 1-17 [with Tonga], there isn’t much in it,” Paulo revealed.

“It’s a shame that we haven’t been up there over the last few years.

“We haven’t performed the way we should have but guys like Jarome Luai, Tyrone May and Anthony Milford, who can change a game in a second, can help make Samoa achieve success.

“I think the game is slowly building in Samoa and we will start to see success in the future.”