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PREVIEW: New Zealand v Samoa at The Halliwell Jones Stadium
Samoan captain Harrison Hansen and New Zealand captain Simon Mannering pose with the World Cup trophy. Picture: SWpix
Sports editor Mike Parsons looks ahead to the Group B clash between Samoa and New Zealand in Warrington on Sunday. Use the 'related links' - below right - for interviews with players and New Zealand head coach Stephen Kearney, as well as video footage
FIVE years of planning brings us a five-week feast of rugby league and culture, the likes of which we have not experienced before.
And Warrington is at the beating heart of this World Cup extravaganza, with both the Samoa and USA teams based in the town as well as two exciting matches featuring on our doorstep at The Halliwell Jones Stadium.
After the opening ceremony in Cardiff this Saturday, when England’s bout with Australia will be top of the bill, it will be Warrington’s turn in the global eye as champions New Zealand tackle Samoa in the Group B ice-breaker, kick off 6pm.
Dancing will transcend from the streets of Warrington to the teams’ evocative pre-match Haka performances on the pitch.
The Samoans will rip into their war dance, Siva Tau – howls and squeals accompanying movements suggestive of spearing their prey.
“Here I come completely prepared, my strength is at its peak, make way and move aside,” they will chant.
There will be a response! The Kiwis have a new Haka for this tournament, making its World Cup debut on Warrington turf. In it, the players acknowledge their ancestors and warn that the Kiwis are here so be careful on your approach.
Then it will be time for the lords of the dance to become lords of an unfamiliar manor, bringing their highly explosive brand of smash-bang-wallop southern hemisphere rugby league to a 12,000-plus Warrington crowd that can expect to be on its feet from the moment the whistle sounds.
Tribal warfare will be played out with a rugby ball, and one of the planet’s greatest sportsmen will be in the heat of the battle.
It is the perfect stage for Sonny Bill Williams to strut his stuff. All Blacks World Cup winner in 2011. NRL Grand Final winner with Sydney Roosters last month. New Zealand heavyweight boxing champion.
The 28-year-old back-row forward is an inspiration to the men around him, as Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney explained.
“The way he goes about his business is a real eye opener, when you have excelled in three sports like he has,” said Kearney.
“And we’re not talking run-of-the-mill performances, in all three he’s pretty handy.
“When you are doing that it is not only your talent that is getting you through, there are other qualities that you have to have as part of your make-up.
“And he is as driven as any of my athletes to want to be the best, and obviously that helps to inspire the group around him.”
Samoa have stars of their own.
Watch out for the Smiling Assassin coming off the bench midway through the first half. You might here the crunch of his tackles before realising Penrith Panthers powerhouse Mose Masoe has entered the fray.
At 6ft 4ins and 19st, he is a scatterer of tacklers as well. Super League defences will have their work cut out when he joins fellow countryman Sia Soliola in a St Helens shirt next year.
Their general – the Lee Briers of the side – is Ben Roberts, a half back who has just come to the end of his contract at Parramatta Eels in Australia.
Most of the Samoans’ creative running play will come through him, and he has a superb long kicking game.
And here’s the tasty part of this encounter.
Although Roberts is Samoan, he has previously played for the Kiwis – as has David Fa’alago, while the majority of the Samoans were born in New Zealand and were selected because of descent.
In the Kiwis camp, there is Pacific island ancestry – even Sonny Bill Williams’ father is Samoan.
And adding to the spice there are players from six NRL clubs in opposite camps.
It explains how Sunday’s encounter will be tribal – even mate against mate.
It will be rugby league of a different culture, it will be World Cup rugby league in our town.
And the beauty is that it will only be the warm-up act to the quarter final at The Halliwell Jones Stadium in three weeks’ time.
Bring it on!
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