Country put up a brave fight in 40-26 loss to Samoa

SPEED TO BURN: Peter Matautia storms away from the Country defence before going on to score Samoa's first try at Equex Centre on Friday night. Picture: Les Smith
SPEED TO BURN: Peter Matautia storms away from the Country defence before going on to score Samoa's first try at Equex Centre on Friday night. Picture: Les Smith

Samoa’s NRL stars proved too strong at Equex Centre on Friday night but Country won plenty of plaudits.

Putting in a brave effort, the under 23s played well above their weight before falling 40-26.

Country coach Josh Cale was thrilled by their performance.

“It was just a credit to them with the way they held themselves,” Cale said.

“I know the 23s concept has been knocked, but they are all young, all keen and they still have aspirations and dreams.

“Tonight was just unbelievable.”

Country had the better for the early stages but Samoa looked dangerous every time they touched the ball only for execution to let 

Country went close to scoring when they had back-to-back sets on Samoa’s line, but couldn’t break through.

After the ball was kicked dead, however, Joey Leilua showed just how much speed the Samoans have as he sprinted 60 off the restart.

While that set broke down, Peter Mata’uita soon opened the scoring after 15 minutes as he sliced through for an easy try.

Nine minutes into the second stanza Jarome Laui made the most of a pause in play to score from 40 out before Leilua completed a 60-metre team try to have Samoa racing ahead a 18-0 lead.

But Country were the next to score as Jacob Gagai swooped on a loose ball to score with a minute left before the long break.

Samoa extended their lead six minutes after half-time when Young Tonumaipea scored off a slick inside ball.

However Country were quick to respond when Gagai plucked an intercept try only to see Samoa score the last two tries of the period to take the scoreline to 30-10.

It was where Samoa did the most damage before being outscored in the last stanza.

Despite early tries to Ken Maumalo and Suaia Matagi, Country fired back with three of their own to finish with a bang.

Giving the crowd of over 3500 a thrill Ryley Thomas completed a 100-metre effort which started when Samoa battered the ball back with four minutes left.

Two minutes later Jake Wheeler scored following a break from Jedidiah Simbiken.

Jacob Hickson thing finished things off when he crossed in the last few seconds following some good work from Gagai.

While he thought his team got off to a slow start Samoa captain Frank Pritchard saw some positives.

“It was a slow start from us, a few boys hadn’t played for a while, but at the end of the day it was good to get a hit out,” Pritchard said.

“Due to Country’s performance it wasn’t easy, it was a tough one. They have that tough country mentality and when it was time to switch on they switched on.”