For a team about to play in a World Cup final there hasn’t been a whole lot of talk about Australia this week.
All the build-up to Sunday morning’s (AEST) clash at Old Trafford has been about Samoa and it’s easy to understand why.
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The island nation’s journey to it’s first World Cup final in any major sport has been remarkable, from the way the team rose from the wreckage of their tournament opener against England to the story of the humble beginnings of some of the players.
Calling the Kangaroos villains would do them a disservice – they’ve been on their own journey through this World Cup and haven’t done anything wrong — but as the game approaches Samoa are definitely the heroes of the story.
Samoan flags are flying all over the world and if you have any lying around you can flog them for a king’s ransom. Hollywood star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is giving the team shout-outs on Intsagram urging them to think of their legacy at this historic moment.
In villages across the islands the people are marching through the streets chanting the player’s names or even spray-painting messages of support on the sides of farm animals.
The Samoan police have issued 14 permits for parades around the country but there’s going to be more than that regardless of the result. People in Samoa will name their children after the men who have done this for their country.
It’s impossible not to be swept up in at all, even just a little, because it’s all so colourful and vibrant and compelling. These are the good things, the strongest, warmest and best feelings, and a shining example of how sport can unite and celebrate a community or a people or a country.
The Kangaroos have plenty of fans and they’re passionate about the jersey and what it means but there’s nothing like this.
Mal Meninga’s team are a great side, odds on to be crowned the best in the world, and they have their own characters with their own compelling stories of where they came from and how they earned the green and gold jersey.
An Australian victory on Sunday would be a fine achievement, as all World Cups are, but it would be one triumph amongst many.
Of the 14 World Cups that have been played since 1954, Australia has won ten of them including eight of the last nine. In the last 40 years they’ve only tasted defeat in a series or tournament twice.
But because they are so dominant and destructive and because they have sat on top for so long, they are the Goliath of international rugby league and it’s hard to cheer for a giant.
It’s been that way all through the tournament. Picking the most popular side after England would be a difficult choice but if you wanted to go to a match and make some new mates all you’d have to do was cheer for whoever Australia was playing.
It reached a fever pitch in the semi-final win over New Zealand, when Elland Road sounded like it’d been transported to south Auckland as the Kiwis gave the Kangaroos their first real test of the tour.
You can expect a repeat dose at Old Trafford. Samoa might have broken England’s hearts in the semi-final but they’ll be the people’s champions without question.
And no matter the result, this will be remembered as Samoa’s tournament. It’s the first time they’ve made it this far and something can only happen for the first time once.
This has been their moment, their time to rise up and become one of the rugby league superpowers and the indelible images that live on into the future will be of their Sivi Tau making the sky shake, their ferocious Pacific derby with Tonga and the pulsating win over England.
Australia have had their own moments of brilliance as they’ve ripped teams apart on their way to the final — Josh Addo-Carr’s highlight reel grows longer with every match, so much so that he’s put together at least three tries that would be worthy as the best of the tournament.
If they win there will be celebrations but they won’t be generational ones. It won’t be a moment where, for the rest of your life, you’ll remember where you were, who you were with and what you were doing when they won the World Cup.
It just can’t be the same, not after they’ve been on top for so long. The greatest joy of all is the one you don’t expect and Australia are expected to win every single game they play. The stakes just can’t feel as high.
There’s nothing the Kangaroos can do about this. They’ve just played their best and won their games, like so many green and gold teams have before them. They’re passionate about the jersey and have lived up to it’s prestige.
Therein lies the difference. Australia are furthering the legacy of the green and gold jersey, which is over a century old and has been worn by the greatest players in this sport’s history.
But we quickly become accustomed to that greatness and for all the honour and pride the Kangaroos have represented for so long, Samoa are building something new.
Only time will tell if it can last, but that’s why this week has been all about them. They’re not writing Nathan Cleary’s name on the side of alpacas, are they?
Read More: The Kangaroos are Test football’s gold standard, but this rugby league World Cup is all about Samoa