x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Rugby's minnows must have lift off

Everyone talks a lot about the chasm between the haves and have-nots in rugby union

Rugby's minnows must have lift off Everyone talks a lot about the chasm between the haves and have-nots in rugby union. They say sides like Argentina and the Pacific Island nations suffer from not playing regular, top-class fixtures, and should be welcomed in to tournaments like the Six and Tri-Nations. Yet, the supposed paupers of the 15-man game are princes compared to the treatment we get over in rugby league.

Outside of the top three teams - Australia, England and New Zealand - there is little but neglect in the world of 13-man rugby. Most of our Samoa players will be playing together for the first time in our opening pool match at the World Cup. Not only do we have no Tests for four years between World Cups, we have not managed to secure warm-up friendlies. Don't get me wrong, I am certainly not lining up early excuses for my side.

We believe we have a realistic chance of winning this World Cup - no matter how our preparations have compared to those of England or Australia. Tony Smith, England's excellent coach, demanded the very best for his side in the build-up to the competition. Smith and the team manager Graeme Thompson were given the funds and time to travel to Australia on a fact-finding mission in January. They had regular fixtures over the season, and smashed Wales in a warm-up friendly before jetting off Down Under.

But we are not moaning. We appreciate what we get. We do not have any qualms over whether we get the same treatment, we just work hard for what we get. It is unfortunate the way rugby league is structured, as it does not allow for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji to play regular Test matches. That is the downfall of rugby league. The powers that be do not seem interested in proper competitions for us guys. They talk about rugby league going global - yet they just concentrate on Australia, England, New Zealand and France.

Rugby union seems to have got it right. They include every South Pacific team, and they get regular fixtures every year. Look at the Samoa rugby union side's fixture list. Their matches are massive. We only seem to get together once every four years. That is sad but it is rugby league's fault, not ours. We cannot do anything without rugby league's approval. If Samoa, Fiji and Tonga had more fixtures, you would see more of our players opting to stay, rather than going off to play for Australia and New Zealand.

The situation does work in our favour in one regard - it makes our players hungry to prove themselves against the best. Not that any player on either side will need an extra incentive when we kick off our campaign against our fellow islanders Tonga. It is a massive game for both nations. Tonga are a strong side, well coached by Jimmy Dymock, and well drilled. It will be a physical game. The team who wins will be the one who holds their composure for longer - because they could easily lose it.

A lot of players from both teams play in the best leagues, the Super League back in the UK, for example, so they are all used to pressure. The challenge for us is that Tonga will be our first game. They have played a warm-up game against New Zealand, then Ireland in their first group game. We have had no matches, while they will have had two. They might benefit - but they might also pick up injuries.

Apollo Perelini, the new head coach at the Elite Sporting Academy in Dubai, will coach Samoa during the tournament in Australia.