The Country U23’s might not have won the match, but they’ve won over plenty of admirers after a courageous performance against the Samoan World Cup Squad at McDonalds Park, Wagga Wagga.
Facing a side that boasted over 1700 games of First Grade NRL and English Super League experience, the Country side put in a performance to remember in the 40-26 defeat in front of 3500 fans.
Country U23’s Coach Josh Cale was thrilled by their performance.
“It was just a credit to them with the way they held themselves,” Cale said.
“I know the 23s concept has been knocked, but they are all young, all keen and they still have aspirations and dreams.
“Tonight was just unbelievable.” Country had the better of the early stages, forcing several line drop-outs, but Samoa looked dangerous every time they touched the ball only for execution to stop them from making Country pay.
Country went close to scoring when they had back-to-back sets on Samoa’s line, but couldn’t break through.
After the ball was kicked dead, however, Joey Leilua showed his speed to sprint 60 meters from the restart.
While that set broke down, Peter Mata’uita soon opened the scoring after 15 minutes as he sliced through for the opening try.
Nine minutes into the second stanza Jarome Laui made the most of a pause in play to score from 40 metres out before Leilua completed a 60-metre team try to have Samoa racing ahead a 18-0 lead.
But Country were the next to score as Jacob Gagai swooped on a loose ball to score with a minute left before the long break, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Samoa extended their lead six minutes after half-time when Young Tonumaipea scored off a slick inside ball.
However Country were quick to respond when Gagai plucked an intercept try only to see Samoa score the last two tries of the period to take the scoreline to 30-10.
Despite early tries to Ken Maumalo and Suaia Matagi, Country fired back with three of their own, including a 100-metre team effort to finish with a bang and send the Country crowd to their feet with applause.
Jack Hickson finished things off when he crossed in the last few seconds following some good work from Gagai to round out a courageous performance.
While he thought his team got off to a slow start Samoa captain Frank Pritchard saw some positives.
“It was a slow start from us, a few boys hadn’t played for a while, but at the end of the day it was good to get a hit out,” Pritchard said.
“Due to Country’s performance it wasn’t easy, it was a tough one. They have that tough country mentality and when it was time to switch on they switched on.”
Country Centre Ryley Thomas admitted it was a night to remember for himself and his teammates.
“Even though we didn’t get the chocolates, it still kinda feels like we won,”
This article first appeared on crlnsw.com.au