After starting with the Tongan Warriors last week, the spotlight shifts to the Samoan Warriors today in the latest incarnation of the ‘best of’ Vodafone Warriors selections being revealed on the NRL’s traditional ‘Team List Tuesday’ in association with the Alternative Commentary Collective.
Players of Samoan heritage, including a number of club legends, make up a significant percentage of the Vodafone Warriors’ 243-strong roster.
Indeed, they fill nine spots in the club’s 23-strong 100-game list, the most of any ethnic group.
It meant sifting through a pool of 50-odd contenders was a distinct challenge despite several straightforward choices. The result is a 17-man dream team; if only these players could be seen on the field at the same time at the peak of their powers.
The combination includes one 1995 original in powerhouse prop Joe Vagana (#18), who became the club’s second 100-game player making 115 appearances from 1995-2000 before he linked with Bradford in England. At the other end of the time frame are two members of the current NRL squad in fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and winger Ken Maumalo.
Tuivasa-Sheck, Francis Meli, Nigel Vagana, Jerome Ropati and Maumalo make up a potent back five. Between them they have a total of 493 NRL appearances for the Vodafone Warriors while Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters), Meli (St Helens and Salford) and Vagana (Warrington, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cronulla-Sutherland and South Sydney) also boast substantial experience and success for other clubs. Just missing the cut was right wing specialist Henry Fa’afili who, with Meli, formed such a dynamic wing pairing for the club in the early 2000s before going on to have a successful career with Warrington.
Kiwi internationals Thomas Leuluai and Motu Tony make a strong halves pairing, Leuluai now with more than 400 appearances in the NRL and Super League combined. Foundation Warrior Tea Ropati would be another option and Chanel Harris-Tavita, still early in his NRL career, has some appeal, too. Another contender at standoff was the versatile Sione Faumuina.
Go to the pack and Vagana and Ruben Wiki are the starting props, the combative Monty Betham is at hooker and the back row comprises Ali Lauitiiti, Logan Swann and Faumuina, who were all teammates across the era when the Vodafone Warriors made the finals three years running in 2001, 2002 and 2003. They have more than 700 appearances for the Vodafone Warriors behind them and upwards of 1600 all up including their careers with other clubs in Australia or England.
Given the versatility in the squad to cover other positions, the interchange is stacked with nothing but bruising forwards in Jerry Seuseu, Ben Matulino, Joe Galuvao and Iafeta Paleaaesina.
Of the 17 named, there’s cover for all positions, Tuivasa-Sheck and Nigel Vagana able to go to the wing, Ropati and Tony to fullback, Faumuina, Meli and Wiki (in his earlier days) to the centres, Tony and Leuluai to hooker, Ropati, Faumuina and Nigel Vagana to the halves and Wiki, Galuvao and Matulino to the edge.
Close contenders for bench roles included cult hero Hitro Okesene (although he played just 22 NRL games), Leeson Ah Mau, Tony Tuimavave, Evarn Tuimavave and Jazz Tevaga while a sentimental choice would be the late Sonny Fai, whose career was just starting.
SAMOAN WARRIORS | 1995-2020:
|1||Roger TUIVASA-SHECK||(Vodafone Warrior #203)|
|2||Francis MELI||(Vodafone Warrior #65)|
|3||Nigel VAGANA||(Vodafone Warrior #32)|
|4||Jerome ROPATI||(Vodafone Warrior #108)|
|5||Ken MAUMALO||(Vodafone Warrior #201)|
|6||Motu TONY||(Vodafone Warrior #90)|
|7||Thomas LEULUAI||(Vodafone Warrior #105)|
|8||Joe VAGANA||(Vodafone Warrior #18)|
|9||Monty BETHAM||(Vodafone Warrior #61)|
|10||Ruben WIKI||(Vodafone Warrior #123)|
|11||Ali LAUITIITI||(Vodafone Warrior #55)|
|12||Logan SWANN||(Vodafone Warrior #42)|
|13||Sione FAUMUINA||(Vodafone Warrior #98)|
|14||Jerry SEUSEU||(Vodafone Warrior #50)|
|15||Ben MATULINO||(Vodafone Warrior #142)|
|16||Joe GALUVAO||(Vodafone Warrior #56)|
|17||Iafeta PALEAAESINA||(Vodafone Warrior #93)|