Brian To’o, a prolific Penrith Panthers winger. A proud NSW winger and a proud Samoan winger. But that pride to represent both has upset some rugby league heavyweights.
To’o, who values heritage and is proud to represent his Samoan culture, has said his mind is made up.
“Most definitely I’ll be playing in the World Cup, and I’m going to be putting on the red and blue jersey of Samoa,” he told Triple M.
“I’m fully committed to Samoa.”
English international James Graham says the pressure that players are placed under to make these decisions is at times unnecessary.
“I think with our international game we need people like Brian To’o playing for Samoa, I think it is important and why put young adults in an unnecessary position and say choose now,” Graham said.
In the view of this writer, we completely understand To’o and where he is coming from.
Denying him a chance to play for his native Samoa, a culture and heritage he has been immersed in, would be an injustice to all Pasifika players.
It is worth noting that 45% of NRL players have Pasifika heritage. That heritage is something some have grown up with or for others, they want to learn more about it.
The stance taken by To’o should come as no surprise with other Pasifika stars like Jason Taumalolo, Kotoni Staggs, Jarome Luai and others.
From a personal standpoint, as previously mentioned, the stance shown by these rugby league players brings a smile to my face.
Players should not be forced to play for or pick Australia because they have played for NSW or QLD.
You play for your state for the honour of doing so.
You play for your country because of the pride, the passion and for your family.
We relate to every aspect because on our end, having dual nationalities and dual allegiances is the norm now.
Australian is the place that we might call home and yours truly has done so for more than 30 years and will continue to do so, likely for the rest of my days.
However, like To’o, our heart, our family, belongs with the our European culture.
So for Origin, we have no allegiance.
At World Cups, we support the underdogs, the minnow nations.
Sadly, our European heritage does not transcend into rugby league circles as our nation has not played a fully fledged international for years.
The closest we have is Brazil which even then, is worlds apart.
In the football world, it is a different story. Our team has seen success, perhaps the greatest sporting success for us as fans.
That same level of euphoria is not one we feel with many Australian sides or individuals.
So, the next time you question someone what their culture means to them, what Pasifika or heritage means and whether they can don a state jersey and an international jersey, remember that family is everything.
Remember that your blood is thicker than water and that is what you play for.