Brian To’o signs for the World Cup in Samoa

Penrith Panthers star Brian To’o has announced his intention to play for Sāmoa at the Rugby League World Cup in England later this year in a bid to fend off Australian interest.

To’o will join Penrith teammates Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton, Taylan May, Izack Tago and Spencer Leniu in the Sāmoan roster when the tournament begins in October.

Sāmoa’s first meeting comes at St James’ Park in Newcastle on October 15 against hosts and reigning World Cup finalists England.

While Luai and Crichton are expected to wear the Samoan colors as well, other Origin team members Josh Papali’i, Junior Paulo, Joseph Suaalii, Jeremiah Nanai, Payne Haas, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Murray Taulagi, and Hamiso are also expected to wear the Samoan colors Tabuai-Fidow decide between Samoa and Australia.

Born in Westmead to a Samoan family, To’o grew up in Mount Druitt, west Sydney, where he played junior football with St Mary’s Saints.

He made his NRL debut with Penrith in Round 10, 2019 and later that same year made his international debut for Sāmoa before making his Origin debut in 2021.

His decision to turn down significant financial incentives to represent his Sāmoan heritage was not taken lightly.

“Definitely, I’m going to play at the World Cup and I’m going to put on the Sāmoa red and blue jersey… I’m totally behind Sāmoa,” he told Triple M.

“It would mean the world to me to put on the jersey and it’s a huge opportunity to play for Australia but heart is everything to me and my people and my family mean more… I will definitely play for my family.”

Current eligibility rules allow players to represent their state domestically and a second-tier nation internationally, which Sāmoa is classed as.

Australia, New Zealand and England are the only current nations to be ranked as top tier for their advantages in paths, development and talent pools, not the success of their international squads.

To’o’s decision to commit to the World Cup in Sāmoa is an important decision for international rugby league and will help achieve broader parity and competitiveness in a tournament that has historically been lopsided.

The sacrifices made by players like To’o to represent their legacy improve the state of international rugby league and deserve applause.

There’s no reason why a player born in western Sydney to Samoan parents should choose between his stage and his heritage, especially when his decision to represent both is in the game’s best interest.

Sāmoa is currently ranked eighth in the world but looks to climb up the rankings later this year and trouble some of the world’s heavyweights.

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