Winger David Nofoaluma says Samoa have what it takes to challenge for Rugby League World Cup glory later this year and aim to show their credentials against the Cook Islands at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday.
Samoa have won only one of their last nine international matches but since their last fixture in 2019, NRL stars of Samoan descent including Jarome Luai, Jeremiah Nanai and Josh Schuster have emerged as geniune gamebreakers.
Four of the five first-choice outside backs at reigning premiers Penrith are eligible to represent Samoa, while the likes of Josh Papalii, Josh Aloiai and Payne Haas are among the first-rate forwards with Samoan heritage.
"I think it's pretty clear to everyone that Samoa can be one of, if not the, best nations in the world," Wests Tigers star Nofoaluma told AAP.
"This weekend, we've got a lot of young talent in our team.
"It'll give our coaching staff a little bit of an insight into what the team will look like at the end of the year."
Nofoaluma said he expected the Samoan side that took the field at the World Cup in October would be even stronger than the one on Saturday.
Of the 34 players featuring in Sunday's second State of Origin game, nine are eligible to play for Samoa but won't feature in the Pacific Test series this weekend due to the fixture clash.
But all nine could line up at the World Cup; Samoa's status as a non-tier one nation means players are able to appear at Origin level without needing to forgo representing Samoa.
Nofoaluma predicted any number of Luai, Papalii, Haas, Nanai, Stephen Crichton, Brian To'o, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Murray Taulagi and Junior Paulo could join Samoa at the World Cup.
"I'm sure there are a few players who are playing Origin who would like to elect to play for Samoa," Nofoaluma said.
"Australia and New Zealand have some Samoan players in their teams so we'd be happy to see them join us at the end of the year."
Only six members of the Cook Islands' 17 are members of the top 30 squad of an NRL side but Samoa fullback Charlie Staines said he and his teammates knew better than to underestimate their rivals.
"They'll come out hard and they'll show a lot of passion and pride," he said.
"We're looking forward to it."
In the second Pacific Test at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday, Papua New Guinea will take on Fiji.
Viliame Kikau, Tui Kamikamica and Maika Sivo are among the NRL players taking to the field for Fiji, while Justin Olam and Alex Johnston among those appearing for PNG.
PNG captain David Mead said rubbing shoulders with NRL players would help his teammates who play in the lower grade to perfect their craft ahead of the World Cup.
"I can see them opening up their ears and learning as much as they can so they can take it back to the (Queensland Cup side) PNG Hunters," he said.
"It's certainly a very exciting week for them."
Australian Associated Press
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