Surprise World Cup finalists Samoa will run out at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon with an emotional message from Hollywood actor Dwayne Johnson ringing in their ears as they look to topple Australia.
The Rock spoke of the pride in his Samoan heritage during a powerful speech to his 348 million followers on Instagram as he urged the Pacific Island minnows to use “grit” and seize the opportunity to create a legacy.
“When I think about legacy, I think about my grandfather, I think about my dad, the soul man Rocky Johnson,” he said.
Movie star Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has delivered an incredible speech to the Samoan rugby squad, calling on them to win the historic Rugby League World Cup against Australia and forge their 'legacy'.#TheProjectTV pic.twitter.com/hdwAcfoCJr
— The Project (@theprojecttv) November 18, 2022
“I think about my grandparents. All my ancestors, all your ancestors. Our ancestors are watching.”
Samoa’s thrilling last-gasp semi-final victory over England sparked wild celebrations back in the capital Apia, where hundreds of fans took to the streets at 6am, blasting car horns and waving flags.
Similar scenes unfolded in Auckland and in parts of Australia and Samoa – with a population of just over 200,000 – will come to another standstill this weekend if Matt Parish’s men go on to make more history.
Centre Stephen Crichton, who kicked the 40-metre drop goal that broke English hearts at the Emirates Stadium, says the Samoan players are acutely aware of the huge interest generated world-wide.
“It’s gone global,” he said. “It means a lot to all the boys in the squad and it means a lot for our motherland and the people of Samoa.
“We’ve seen all the videos that’s come out from it and how pride they all are. Flags are being sold out everywhere, it’s pretty crazy.”
Crichton was born in Apia and moved with his parents to New Zealand at the age of two before eventually settling in Australia and is among a host of NRL star players who opted to play for Samoa rather than the Kangaroos.
The Penrith three-quarter actually toured the UK with the Australian schoolboys in 2018 and could have been lining up for the opposition on Saturday had his career not taken a different course.
“We lost every game against England that year,” he said. “I never thought I would have the chance to come back here and represent Samoa but everything happens for a reason.”
Parish, an Australian who had a six-match stint in charge of Salford in 2011 and has been coaching Samoa since 2013, proudly described his adopted nation as “a little dot in the Pacific” following their epic win over England.
Now Crichton says the team have realistic ambitions of putting their country firmly on the map.
“That was the whole idea of it when all the boys made that pledge to come to Samoa,” he said. “We didn’t want to be in it to compete with the other teams, we wanted to actually make it to the top.”
With Crichton joined in the Samoa squad by his Penrith team-mates Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Izack Tago, Spencer Leniu and Taylan May and further strengthened by the arrival of Joseph Suaalii and captain Junior Paulo, Parish’s men went into their opening game against England in Newcastle as favourites.
The odds were made to look ridiculous as England cantered to a 60-6 victory but they turned their fortunes around in remarkable style.
“All the boys were in shock after that first game,” said forward Jaydn Su’a. “We had a massive expectation and it definitely hit us to lose by that much, putting that type of shame on Samoa and our people.
“That wasn’t us in that first game. We got a lot of support and love going into the World Cup and for us to turn it around the way we did and silence a lot of people was very pleasing.”
Their work, of course, is not finished and, although Samoa are the 1-9 underdogs against Australia, Crichton insists they are determined to go on and finish the job.
“They’re the top team that everyone wants to verse,” he said. “They’re full of superstars and they’re going to test us but we’ve definitely got full confidence in the boys that we can get the job done.”