Australia picks up where it left off against Samoa

It had been four long COVID-interrupted years since Australia last played a rugby league international on home soil. To launch the Pacific Championships, Australia were pitted against their World Cup final opponents from last year, Samoa, in front of a seasonally healthy crowd of 18,144 in Townsville.

Both teams entered the contest with a number of changes from their World Cup final squads, with Australia debuting a new set of outside backs and Samoa missing their best halves pairing of Jarome Luai and Anthony Milford. Still Australia were expecting a challenge, and Samoa, with plenty of NRL talent through the side, were fired up to put on a show.

The opening kick chase at the end of Australia's first set of tackles summed up the professionalism of the team. A perfectly straight line of defence moving quickly to shut down any chance exciting young Samoa fullback Sua Faalogo had of making an early impression. The Samoans were about to be shown a display of power and control from Australia. And so it was that powerhouse Broncos prop Payne Haas crashed his way over for the opening try, after just four minutes, and through some scattered defenders.

Not long after, from a centre-field scrum 15 metres out, a slick passing movement saw Australia captain James Tedesco slice through the defence to score a second. It followed a couple of errors from Samoa and set an ominous tone early for a replay of Australia's dominant World Cup final victory.

On 12 minutes, it was big Tino Fa'asuamaleaui's turn to crash over for Australia's third try, despite the attention of four largely ineffective Samoan defenders.

In defence the Australians were equally impressive, moving up in an even line and hitting hard and effectively.

Just 16 minutes into the game they were in for their fourth try after an offload from Haas and another from Cameron Munster with Ben Hunt playing the link man before sending Cameron Murray over. The score was 22-0 and the opening game of the Pacific Championships threatened to be a green and gold cakewalk.

The Samoans hit back straight away, though, with a last-tackle grubber kick from Luciano Leilua, following a regather of possession from a short kick-off, that led to a try in the corner to Murray Taulagi. Stephen Crichton converted from the sideline to lift Samoan spirits.

Australia's next try didn't come until right on halftime, but it was one of the most exciting and well received, as Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow ran onto a pass on his own 20 metre line after a short drop out. The Dolphins flyer weaved and sprinted away as the Queensland crowd rose to cheer one of their favourite sons.

With Australia leading 28-6 at the break, Samoa started the second half with some attacking flair, which was ultimately snuffed out by the well-drilled Australian defence. Still, it was the men in blue that looked to have scored next with a play which started near halfway and ended with 20-year-old fullback Faalogo chipping ahead to regather and cross for what could have been a brilliant try. Unfortunately, for Samoa, the video referee found a knock-on in the lead-up to deny the game one of its brightest highlights.

The result was put beyond doubt with a second try to Tabuai-Fidow in the 54th minute.

With seven minutes remaining, Samoa did cross for their final try of the match, with a series of powerful runs combined with clever offloads to see Leilua crash over. It gave the score a degree of respectability, with Australia's lead cut to 32-12.

But the Australians weren't finished, with Kotoni Staggs crossing for the Australians' last, to make it 38-12.

Samoa, as they did during the World Cup, will improve immensely following this hit-out. They take on the Kiwis next week in Auckland, in a game that is set to decide the second finalist. New Zealand then face Australia the following week, the second of two very tough back-to-back encounters, as they look to advance to the decider in Hamilton on November 4.

This tournament is part of the move to increase the number of internationals played between World Cups. It is the only way to increase the competitiveness of the international game. From what we saw on Saturday night the Australian side remains the benchmark, despite, or perhaps even because of, the changes made to the squad.