En route to an historic World Cup win over a powerhouse Australian outfit in 2008, New Zealand’s Benji Marshall inspired a raft of would-be stars to chase their Rugby League dreams.
The Kiwis’ 34-20 Final triumph over the Kangaroos – a side which boasted immortals-in-waiting Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith – proved that belief was as great a force, if not greater than, skill itself.
Amongst the tens of thousands – and perhaps the many more still – that watched on from afar, was the then-13-year-old Fa’amanu Brown.
Wide-eyed and aspiring to make it on to the ‘big stage’, the Christchurch product set out to not just follow in his hero’s footsteps, but to carve a path of his own.
“I remember in 2008, watching Benji lead that side around, and bringing his magic that only he could bring. He was a hero of mine, and to then [make my NRL] debut against him in 2014, it was so surreal,” Brown tells NSWRL.com.au.
“I’d always imagined playing in a Rugby League World Cup, and thought of how special it would be to play on the world stage. I’m here now, and I’m so grateful to be in the team and in a squad with so much talent and potential.”
After playing the majority of the 2017 season in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW with the Newtown Jets, Brown and the Samoans will face – somewhat ironically – the Kiwis in the first of the side’s pool matches in Auckland, on October 28.
The match will be Brown’s first in a World Cup tournament, having twice before worn the royal blue of Samoa in the annual Pacific Tests.
Though Marshall won’t be on hand to star for the Kiwis this campaign, as he did in 2008, the 22-year-old Brown will again draw inspiration from the all-time New Zealand great.
“It’s a dream come true. I’m originally from New Zealand, and I can’t put into words what it feels like to play against a team and players I’d idolised growing up,” Brown says.
“Nine years ago, I was sitting in a room with my brothers playing PlayStation while the World Cup was on, thinking of what it would be like to one day feature in it.
“It’s going to be a real occasion for all of my family, not just for me. They’ll fly from Christchurch up to Auckland, it’s going to be something pretty unreal.”
A family man at heart and not one lacking in confidence or charisma, a bullish Brown knows that he has a chance to inspire the next generation of Pacific talent in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
Belief, as it was for Benji Marshall and the Kiwis in 2008, is the driving factor for Brown and his side as they look to win through to knock-out stage of the competition – arguably, against the odds.
“I think we’ve drawn the hardest pool, I think there’s going to be a few upsets that may come as a surprise to a lot of people, but not the players themselves,” Brown says.
“There’s plenty of belief amongst the squads, Tonga have brought a strong side, and New Zealand only are stronger for the fresh players they’ve had to bring in.”
Amongst the hype and hysteria of the upcoming World Cup, Samoa travelled to Wagga on Wednesday (October 11), ahead of their clash with the Country Rugby League Under-23s on Friday.
“It’s been a pretty full on preparation for that game, for me as a half it’s just been about building those combinations and getting to know the game of [Penrith Panthers’ Intrust Super Premiership NSW five-eighth] Jarome Luai. You can just tell he’s a real talent,” Brown says.
“Having [Anthony] Milford here would have been a big boost, especially leading into the World Cup, but we’re really looking forward to it. Hopefully we can set a good tone leading into that first game in Auckland.”