Gardiner, Soward to coach Samoa teams at Pacific Championships

  • September 20, 2023

Brad Walter
NRL Senior Reporter

Wed 20 Sep 2023, 09:33 AM

Panthers assistant coach Ben Gardiner will take charge of Toa Samoa in the upcoming Pacific Championships against Australia and New Zealand.

Gardiner, who coached the Māori All Stars at the start of the season and has been a key member of the Kiwis coaching staff for the 2017 and 2022 World Cups, will take over from Matt Parish.

St George Illawarra NRLW coach Jamie Soward will coach the Fetū Samoa women’s team, who play Fiji Bulikula in Port Moresby on October 15.

Gardiner is a highly respected figure in the rugby league community who brings a wealth of experience to the position and has a proven track record of coaching success.

Ben Gardiner has a wealth of coaching experience and was in charge of the 2023 Maori All Stars team
©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

His leadership will be instrumental as Toa Samoa gears up to compete in the upcoming Pacific Championships.

“It is a privilege and honour to be entrusted with the role of Head Coach for Toa Samoa,” Gardiner said.

“It is a great opportunity to build connection and relationships as we move into a new era for Rugby league Samoa.

“Samoa has a rich rugby league heritage that connects us with culture & high performance, and I am committed to working tirelessly with our talented athletes to prepare them for the Pacific Championships.

“Together, we aim to make Samoa proud on the international stage.”

Rugby League Samoa also welcomes Soward as the newly appointed head coach for the Fetu Samoa women’s team.

Dragons NRLW coach Jamie Soward will coach the Fetū Samoa women’s team
©NRL Photos

Soward, a former NRL star and an advocate for women’s rugby league development, is renowned for his passion for the game and his dedication to fostering the growth of female athletes.

“It is an extreme honour and privilege to coach Fetu Samoa,” he said. There is a large number of Polynesian women in the NRLW competition, and it’s exciting to have many of these players represent Samoa.

“I am also looking forward to embracing the Samoan culture during this journey.”

The coaching appointments signify a pivotal moment in Rugby League Samoa’s journey.

Gardiner takes over from Matt Parish, who recently stood down after steering Samoa to the final of last year’s World Cup against Australia at Old Trafford.

His first match in charge will be a re-match between the World Cup finalists in Townsville on October 14.

Samoa then take on the Kiwis at Eden Park on October 21, before a trans-Tasman clash between Australia and New Zealand at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on October 28.

The two highest ranking nations will meet in the final of the Pacific Championship final in Hamilton on November 4.

The Samoa team at last year’s World Cup was headlined by Panthers stars Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton and Spencer Leniu, while Gardiner has previously coached the likes of Martin Taupau, Josh Aloiai and Luciano Leilua.

Gardiner boasts a wealth of experience, having worked in a number of key coaching positions at club and representative career.

Ben Gardiner is the Panthers assistant coach
©Panthers Media

He spent the past two seasons at Wests Tigers as an NRL assistant in 2022 and head coach of the NSW Cup side Western Suburbs in 2021, leading the Magpies to second on the ladder before the competition was suspended due to COVID.

Gardiner previously held coaching positions with South Sydney, Cronulla, North Sydney, City Origin and NSW under-20s.

With the support of former Toa Samoa captains Nigel Vagana, Tony Puletua and Willie Poching, the future holds great promise.

Their dedication to the sport and their mentorship will play a crucial role in guiding Samoa’s rugby league teams to victory.

In a statement announcing the coaching appointments, Rugby League Samoa extended a heartfelt appreciation to the global chapters across New Zealand and Australia.

“These dedicated chapters play a vital role in supporting Samoan Rugby League across various diasporas, fostering talent, and nurturing a sense of community among Samoan rugby league enthusiasts,” the statement said.

“In particular, their remarkable efforts in developing and administering the FETU Samoa team exemplify their dedication to the sport and the Samoan heritage.

“Rugby League Samoa recognises that it’s the combined passion and commitment from these chapters that contribute to the growth and success of Samoan rugby league, both at home and abroad.”