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Pacific Island nations chase NRL stars for Nines

Pacific Nations are gunning to pinch historic silverware at October's World Cup Nines as the likes of Payne Haas, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and David Fifita are sized up for potential allegiance switches.

Tonga, Samoa and Fiji have been drawn in the same group for the October 18-19 "festival of rugby league", which will have a $250,000 purse on offer across the men's and women's competitions to ensure the game's star attractions turn out.


Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has already indicated he will be taking the concept seriously with the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Josh Addo-Carr, Blake Ferguson and Cameron Munster amongst those in line for Australian selection.

Tonga meanwhile will have dynamic forwards Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Tevita Pangai to call upon, while David Fifita will also come into contention after his Queensland Origin debut ruled him out of this year's mid-season Test against New Zealand.

Samoa are also eyeing off a call-up for Broncos teen powerhouse Payne Haas if he is passed over for Kangaroos duty.

NRL.com understands Samoan officials have also reached out to Kiwi captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck about potentially changing his allegiances for the tournament, but are more confident of securing Haas to play alongside Brisbane teammates Anthony Milford and Jamayne Isaako.

International rules now allow players to turn out for second-tier nations without ruling themselves out of playing Origin or representing Australia and New Zealand as in previous years.

In any case the shortened Nines format – which saw athletic forwards prove just as valuable as livewire outside backs in the old club-based editions – has the island nations fancying their chances of tournament upset.

“I actually think one of the Pacific teams will win the competition,” Milford told NRL.com.

“I think it's the kind of tournament where we might see a few more guys coming back to play for Tonga or Samoa or those second-tier nations.

“I wouldn't mind trying to sneak Rog [Tuivasa-Sheck] across the line. I haven't reached out to him yet so we'll have to see what happens.

“If we can try and get a few guys back and give it a red-hot crack I think we can surprise a few people."

Parramatta and Tongan veteran Michael Jennings is of the same view, particularly with strong support for the Pacific nations expected among the 50,000 tipped to turnout at Bankwest Stadium.

“There's a good chance of an upset I'd say,” Jennings said.

“I think for all the speed men, the team with the fittest forwards is going to make the running.

“I think we saw it in the club Nines, the big guys set the platform and having quick forwards with skill and speed could be the difference.

“Look at a guy like [Eels teammate] Maika Sivo, he's a front-rower playing on the wing, he's 100 kilos and he does the hundred like he's a pro track athlete.

“That's basically Fiji's whole side, wingers with power like front-rowers.

“There's a big Pacific community out here in Parra so there's going to be some great support and it's going to be unbelievable.”

NRL.com understands that players will receive the same appearance fees across the board for the World Nines, be they from emerging nations Lebanon, the USA and Papua New Guinea or tier one countries Australia, New Zealand and England.

Tonga's stunning run 2017 World Cup that saw them fall just short of a final appearance signalled a shift in the international game's pecking order, though the Mate Ma'a have been disappointed with their returns in Tests against Australia and New Zealand since.

Only one Pacific side will progress to the semi-finals of the Nines tournament, with the top two sides in Australia and New Zealand's group A pool qualifying for the final four along with the winners of the other two pools.

Group B features England, France, Wales and Lebanon, while the Cook Islands are the other Pacific side in Group C.

New Zealand won the last fully-fledged international Nines tournaments held during the Super League era in 1996-97.

SOURCE: NRL/PACNEWS

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