21 November 2022

'Did us proud': Riverina Samoan community celebrate historic world cup final

| Oliver Jacques
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Michael Tomi drapped with the Samoan flag does the thumbs up

Chris Tomi said making the final was a win. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The Samoan community in Griffith and Wagga held big parades over the weekend to celebrate their country’s first-ever appearance in the final of a major sporting event – the Rugby League World Cup in England.

Griffith barber Chris Tomi organised a party at Solar Mad Stadium on Saturday while Wagga DJ Centennial Tuvale led a similar event at the Equex Sporting Centre.

“It’s not just the first time for Samoa to make the grand final, it’s the first time for any pacific nation to make it. It’s a big deal for us,” Mr Tomi said.

“Samoan parties are just massive. Our people love to eat. Win, lose or draw we are here to show our support.”

READ ALSO PM to get the ball rolling as Griffith sports showpiece officially kicks off

Mr Tomi says he is related to the world’s most famous Samoan, actor and professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who delivered a five-minute video message to inspire the team before the big match.

In Griffith, several dozen cars drove into the stadium, each waving the Samoan flag out the window. Despite the rain and cold weather, a least a hundred people turned up. Reggaeton music was played while cars honked their horns, patrons danced on the grass and ate at the BBQ. The cars then did a lap of the town.

Cars with Samoan flags

Samoan flags flew at Solar Mad Stadium. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

It didn’t matter to either Mr Tomi or Mr Tuvale that Samoa lost the grand final to Australia.

“We already won by making it to the grand final. We were up against all odds to just make it, the rest is history,” Mr Tuvale said.

Mr Tomi said his country’s one-point semi-final win against England was breathtaking. In one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history, Samoa won 27-26 after losing to the same side by 54 points just a month earlier.

“We don’t have many people but we are really good at all sports,” Mr Tomi said.

Laylah Pulega dances with Samoan flag

Laylah Pulega dances with pride. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The population of Samoa is just 200,000, compared to England’s population of 56 million. Samoa also has a strong rugby union team which has previously made the quarter-finals of that sport’s world cup.

Around 500 people in Griffith are of Samoan heritage, or about 2 per cent of the town’s population. There are also large numbers of Fijians, Tongans and Cook Islanders, many of whom joined their pacific nation comrades on Saturday to show their support. The Cook Island population in Griffith is now so big that Pentecostal church Lifesource runs a weekly service in the native Maori language of the country.

READ MORE Griffith’s LifeSource church launch weekly Cook Islands Maori Mass

Mr Tomi plays for Griffith’s Black and Whites rugby league team as a forward.

“We have a lot of great players in Griffith, some of them have gone off to play for NRL clubs like the Melbourne Storm and the Canberra Raiders.”

Former Murrumbidgee Regional High School student Michael Asomua, who is also of Islander heritage, made his first-grade debut for the Raiders in 2022.

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