Wigan Warriors exclusive: Meet the Cameroonian ‘brothers’ helping put ancestral homeland on rugby league map

Ross Heppenstall
Junior Nsemba and Sam Eseh Wigan Warriors Cameroon Alamy

Wigan Warriors forwards Junior Nsemba (left) and Sam Eseh (right) - Alamy

Here’s one for you: how did two rugby league players with Cameroonian heritage end up together at the Super League champions?

At Wigan Warriors, homegrown product Junior Nsemba has been united with Sam Eseh following the latter’s close-season arrival from Wakefield Trinity.

While a Lancastrian and a Yorkshireman is about as rugby league as it gets, the hulking forwards’ links to Cameroon in Central Africa saw them bond last season.

A friendship was formed and 19-year-old Nsemba, who played his junior rugby for Wigan St Judes, told Love Rugby League: “It was after a reserve game between Wigan and Wakefield at Robin Park last April.

“I just went up to Sam and said ‘where are you from?’.

“I could tell for some reason that he was Cameroonian, I don’t know why, and we just got talking.

“When he signed for Wigan, we got talking even more and since coming here he’s met all my family and friends.

“It’s pretty nice to have a Cameroonian brother in the team isn’t it?

“I’m inspired by footballing legends of Cameroon such as Roger Milla, Samuel Eto’o, Alex Song and Rigobert Song – they’re people to look up to, albeit in a different sport.

“I’ve obviously been supporting Cameroon in the Africa Cup of Nations and now we’re in the last 16, which is fantastic.

“Both my parents are from Cameroon and hopefully I can do the country proud in rugby league.”

Sam Eseh settled in to life at Wigan Warriors thanks to friendship with Junior Nsemba

Junior Nsemba and Sam Eseh Wigan Warriors Junior Nsemba (left) and Sam Eseh (right) at Wigan’s 2024 Media Day

Leeds-born Eseh was brought up in the tough Halton Moor district and rose to prominence at Wakefield before Wigan swooped to sign him.

Eseh won the 2022 Championship Young Player of the Year prize after impressing on loan at Barrow Raiders, then Featherstone Rovers.

He told Love Rugby League: “When I knew Wigan wanted to sign me, I spoke with Junior and he told me all the good things about the club.

“He’s been really welcoming since I came here and I’ve met all his family, his mum and his siblings, which has helped me to settle.

“It’s an amazing environment here at Wigan and everyone wants you to do well and maximise your potential. Junior and I have become good friends.”

Homegrown young gun Nsemba hungry to build on breakthrough season

Junior Nsemba Wigan Warriors Alamy Junior Nsemba celebrates scoring a try for Wigan in 2023 – Alamy

Nsemba was born and raised in Wigan before making his senior debut in a Super League encounter at Hull Kingston Rovers in August 2022.

Last season was his breakthrough year as he made 16 Super League appearances and scored his first try for the club in a televised Challenge Cup win at Leeds Rhinos.

The back-rower, who can also play prop, reflected: “I think I did myself and my family proud by playing the amount of games that I did.

“Scoring at Headingley was an amazing feeling and I was over the moon because I don’t get too many tries.

“I Facetimed my mum after the game and she was buzzing, but I don’t want to look back on last year too much because we’ve got improvements to make as a team and that’s what we’re focused on.

“My aim is to try and nail down a position in the back-row. I’ve certainly grown in confidence since last year.”

Warriors new boy Sam Eseh keen to cement a regular role with Matt Peet’s side

Sam Eseh Wakefield Trinity Alamy Sam Eseh in action for Wakefield against Wigan in 2023 – Alamy

Eseh stated his aims for the campaign as he bids to become a regular under Wigan head coach Matt Peet.

“I want to cement that prop position,” said the East Leeds product.

“I’m really close to my mum and she’s always coming over from Leeds, cooking my food and making sure I keep my apartment clean!

“My mum was born in England, went back to Cameroon when she was eight, and then returned here for university to become a nurse.”

Competition is fierce at Wigan, particularly in a pack which has also been bolstered by the arrival of Luke Thompson, Tiaki Chan, Kruise Leeming and Sam Walters.

But desire burns within Nsemba and Eseh as the spectre of a date with NRL champions Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge creeps into focus.

Nsemba said: “Everyone knows it’s a big game and I think all the boys would love to play in it.

“We’re all fighting for a spot and that’s why this club’s so great – because we’re all so competitive with each other in the right way.”

Eseh added: “It would be massive to play in that game and I feel like I can.”

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