The revitalization of international football has given rugby league an invaluable gift

Before the game, Josh Schuster told himself he wouldn’t cry.

He meant it too, really.

But when the Samoan national anthem sounded, and Schuster thought of his grandfather and his uncles and everyone in his family who had played for him for Samoa, and how he wore the colors they loved so much, the tears came out and he wasn’t ashamed.

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“Words can’t really describe the feelings you feel. If you’re not there, you can’t really explain the feelings I felt there while singing the national anthem to my family.

“It was the first time I represented my country. It is probably an evening I will never forget representing my family and Samoa, especially all my uncles who represented Samoa, plus my father.

“To have the opportunity to represent my beloved country, I will never forget it.”

After setting up three tries in Samoa’s 42-12 win over the Cook Islands at Campbelltown on Saturday night, Schuster rated his night as “one million out of ten” and seeing him after the game draped in the Samoa flag would make you believe it.

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The sight would have converted even the most cynical critic of the international rugby league, of which there are many, as it is easy to compare the international rugby league to rugby union or football. But to do that misses the point of all three companies. The three sports exist in different universes.

Rugby league will never be a global game like football and until rugby league Test matches can match the state of origin in the public interest, a transition that could take decades if it is even possible, the international game will not be the pinnacle of code be as it is in rugby union.

Outside of Australia, New Zealand and England, the international rugby competition has been run as a community sport for decades.

Everybody knows each other. The audience is packed with family and friends of players. You will see someone you know. There never seems to be enough money, but everyone is doing their best to make it work.

Even now, with more elite players representing Tier 2 nations than ever before, it retains that same energy in the best and worst of ways.

In sports, we talk so much about community and family and culture – we do it so often that it’s easy to forget what those words really mean.

But to see their true power, just remember Schuster’s tears.

Or remember how the earth shook when the Cook Islands did their haka, and how the heavens broke open when Samoa responded with their Sivi Tau.

Or hear what the colors of Papua New Guinea mean for McKenzie Yei, who debuted in the Kumuls’ mighty 24-14 win over Fiji and crashed for a try.

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“When I found out I was on the team, I couldn’t talk, I cried too much. This is my dream,” Yei said.

“As soon as I put on this jersey, I turned into a different man. It’s different. I can’t believe I scored a try. I was out of my mind for a few minutes.

“I will bring this jersey back there, to my house. It is so special to me, to my family and my people, and to my beautiful country.

“I’m really proud, especially for David Mead in his last game. To win for him is big, and to win for debutants like me is big.

“I would always watch the Kumuls play, every time, no matter what, and we loved Meady. To play with him… I have no words. I love him so much.”

Mead himself managed to keep his emotions in check after crossing over for the match-sealing attempt, but he is retiring as one of the Kumuls’ greatest players ever after 14 years in the jersey.

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The veteran Bronco has made 230 appearances in the NRL and Super League, something he says never would have happened had he not impressed the right people during his Kumuls debut in 2008.

It changed his life, he said, and now that he’s 33, it’s time for him to step aside and give the jersey a chance to change someone else’s.

“This is their time now.”

Papua New Guinea showed real professionalism and poise to avert a seemingly endless string of Fijian attacks, as Lachlan Lam shone as half-back with a double, while the Bati have unearthed a future star in Penrith fullback Sunia Turuva.

But these one-off games are as much about the experience as they are about the 80 minutes.

An engaged crowd does more to sell the international rugby league than all the marketing gurus in the world put together, and with just over 10,000 fans pouring into Campbelltown Stadium, it sounded like three times that.