The Good: One of the great moments in Rugby League World Cup history was Fiji’s first game in the 1995 competition, where they put South Africa to the sword. It drew an insane crowd of over 26,000(!) to Central Park to see if they could replicate the magic against England. Whilst they didn’t manage it that day, Fiji have in time come to represent the romance of the Cup. They enter this World Cup as the surprise runners-up of the Pacific section, finishing above Samoa. Fiji play with an exciting brand of attacking rugby, and they’re bringing over several established 1st grade players. A back three of Jarryd Hayne, Wes Naquiama and Semi Tadulala has class and experience right through it.
The Bad: Fiji are definitely the least established of the Pacific island sides in this World Cup, and are relying a lot more on players from lower grades. This is especially true of the pack, since the number of Fijian forwards at 1st grade clubs is not that high. Whilst they will undoubtedly be strong, hard running and adventurous, they will also need to keep the intensity up and display a certain amount of nous to prevail in this group, and it is important that they don’t lose their heads.
The Ugly: There appears to have been some instability during Fiji’s preparations, with Eperama Navale losing a spot in the squad for returning to Australia without telling any of the Bati staff, and with John Sutton pulling out in advance. Fiji need to make sure that any unnecessary distractions have been dealt with before the tournament begins.
The Key: Quite simply, the forwards need to cause enough carnage up front to give the backs some room in which to work. If they front up down the middle, it’s going to make spreading it out wide a lot simpler and a lot more effective. They won’t give up without a fight.
The Coach: Joe Dakuitoga, also known as Joe Rabele, is by far and away the hardest coach to write this profile about at this World Cup, because he definitely has the lowest profile. A former Penrith player and a member of the Bati squad for the 1995 World Cup, he also spent some time at Sheffield Eagles before returning back home to Fiji. Becoming involved in the local League scene since his return, he now has a chance to establish the Bati as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage.
Star Man: Jarryd Hayne has played Origin football (scoring a pretty special try on debut) and played for Australia last year. Since he has been allowed to switch allegiances to Fiji, look for him to be their stand-out attacker. Considering he started the season by being shot at in Sydney, he will no doubt be looking for a less traumatic and more enjoyable way of ending it.
Wild Card: Nick Bradley-Qualilawa was a pretty good player for the London Broncos / Harlequins RL a few seasons ago (and also a nightmare for Stevo in the commentary box). However, since his move to Manly Sea-Eagles he has not really seen much 1st grade football. If he hasn’t lost his touch, then his centre-play could prove especially useful to a Fiji side who are going to be reliant on their threequarters for much of their attacking potency.
Young Gun: Aaron Groom is touted by the Canterbury Bulldogs as a prospect to watch out for, and the Suva born half-back will be looking to improve his stock at the World Cup. With play-makers in short supply for Fiji, it is imperative for the Bati that Groom performs at a high level in Australia. Look for him to get involved in the middle of the park (he’s no stranger to getting stuck in defensively).
In Conclusion… Fiji are somewhat of a wildcard entry into this World Cup, and it’s difficult to make any sort of judgements about them. What cannot be doubted is that they have a pretty spectacular set of outside backs to call upon, and the cutting edge that provides could be most beneficial in a group as nicely poised at this. However, if the forwards and the halves aren’t going to perform then having as much quality in the backline as they do is almost rendered pointless, so the big question mark for the Bati is how well their pack performs. No doubt they will be performing in an all-action style, but it is important that they keep the intensity up for the full 80 minutes on a regular basis if they want to progress to the semi-finals. Whatever happens with Fiji, it won’t be boring.
Squad: Nick Bradley-Qalilawa (Manly Sea Eagles), Jason Bukuya (Cronulla Sharks), Iowane Divavesi (Terrigal Sharks), Aaron Groom (Canterburry Bulldogs), Jarryd Hayne (Parramatta Eels), Sevania Koroi (West Magpies), Josua Koroibulu (Milton Ulladulla Bulldogs), Jone Macilai (Fassifern RLFC), Daryl Millard (Canterburry Bulldogs), Wes Naiqama (captain, Newcastle Knights), Vula Louis Dakuitoga Naqau (Terrigal Sharks), Kaliova Nauqe (Fassifern RLFC), Alipate Noilea (Parkes Spacemen), Josateki Ravueta (Sawtell Panthers), Osea Sadrau (Fassifern RLFC), Ashton Sims (Brisbane Broncos), James Storer (Cronulla Sharks), Waisale Sukanaveita (Terrigal Sharks), Semi Tadulala (Bradford Bulls), Semisi Tora (Parkes Spacemen), Malakai Yalimaiwai Tuiloa (Milton Ulladulla Bulldogs), Akuila Uate (Newcastle Knights), Suguturaga Nemani Valekapa (unattached), Ilisoni Vonomateiratu (unattached), Jone Wesele (Darlington Point).