AUSTRALIAN FIJIANS READY FOR HISTORIC TOUR OF ENGLAND
By Terry Liberapoulos
(Article Courtesy of Rugby League Review, August 2008)
The Australian Fijian Rugby League (AFRL) will be heading to England for a three-match programme after the completion of the World Cup later this year.
The Fijians will depart Australia on November 25 for a three-week tour and have confirmed that they will take on National League One club Leigh Centurions on December 14 at their soon to be completed Leigh Sports Complex.
The AFRL is also close to announcing that they will tackle the Rochdale Hornets with the third match to be against AFRL Chairman James Pickering’s former club Workington Town. The Rochdale Hornets have had a long association with Fijian Rugby League. players.
The game might have been introduced to Fiji only in 1992 but there has been a long history of Fijian players making their mark in Rugby League, most notably back in the 1960s when great players such as Joe Levula and Laitia Ravouvou joined Rochdale Hornets and became household names in the English competition.
The Australian Fijians will be coached by former South Sydney NRL mentor Arthur Kitinas, who also played first grade for South Sydney. He will be assisted by Sydney Roosters lower grade strength and conditioning coach Steve Driscoll,himself a former lower grader with South Sydney as well as having a season with Leigh in 1998.
Originally known as Fiji A, the AFRL was set up to help the Fijian Rugby League by giving them access to players with Fijian backgrounds.
Established in 2004, by Phill Browne, the Australian Fijian Rugby League team has quickly developed into a more than credible international side, competing at a number of events to date, of which include the St Mary?s and Orara Valley 7?s and a full scale
international against Malta in which the Australian Fijians were victorious 40-22.
They utilised their resources during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and also had players travel to play against the Junior Kangaroos and Tonga for the Fiji Bati last season.
"Everything was going fine but when Arthur and myself returned from Fiji, we were told that our services were no longer required," said Driscoll. "We (the AFRL) were left in limbo. There were false accusations made against myself and Arthur and it became pretty hurtful. After all the lies they said about us they still had the hide to ask for us to continue to support them. We (the AFRL) then decided to break away from the Fijian Rugby League."
The AFRL was then set up with the aim to provide opportunity for younger Fijian’s playing here in Australia. It currently has its own entity and has its own separate constitution.
"We hope that one day we can be back together with the Fijian Rugby League but while there are certain people over there still involved we can’t see it happening. Our aim is todevelop the game amongst Fijians here in Australia," said Driscoll, himself born in the Fijian capital of Suva to a British father and Kiribati born, Solomon Islands raised mother.
The tour of England is being used to put some of the players in the shopping window for National League clubs."It is also a good opportunity for National league clubs to promote themselves. It is all about the Super League in England and clubs outside of the elite competition need to find ways to generate support and income and hopefully the games they play against us can help them to do that," said Driscoll.
The tour has been made possible by the generous sponsorship from Flight Centre to the tune of $12,000 and other sponsors such as Auspak, Errea, InShape Health Clubs and the Moore Park Broncos. The AFRL will also receive money from each of their games as well various other sponsorships. "Each player will also contribute $1000 to the tour and we also held a major fund-raiser at Marrickville Town Hall last month," said Driscoll.
The tour has been carefully scheduled for after the World Cup because the AFRL
didn't want to see it as a conflict with the Fijian Rugby League, who will be playing in the main tournament.
"We wish Fiji all the best for the World Cup. We will be here to watch them play before we head over to England," said Driscoll. The Australians Fijians are expected to take a strong squad to England including players with NRL experience including Wise Kativerata, Aseri Laing, James Storer and Namila Davui. Other players that will be considered include Eloni Vunakece, Suli Koroi, Sam Wara, and Waisale Naiqama. This with a host of youngsters from the NYC, Jim Beam Cup and the guys they have currently based in the UK .
The tour will commence after the completion of the Rugby League World Cup, thus allowing players that represent Fiji Bati to also make the trek to the north of England.
Aside from the tour to the northern hemisphere, the AFRL will also be fielding a side in the New South Wales Rugby League Under 16s Development Cup, which will be played at the Western Weekender Stadium in Sydney's west on October 11.
The AFRL will also be fielding a side in the International Nines tournament in early 2009 should that tournament go ahead and will be looking at touring the South Pacific at the end of next season. "It is still too early at this stage but we would be looking at heading to New Zealand, Samoa or Cook Islands next year" said Driscoll.
Australian and Penrith prop forward Petero Civoniceva is the patron of the AFRL and the best Fijian player in any competition is awarded the Petero Civoniceva Medal every year. Parramatta's Jarryd Hayne won the award last year. The best AFRL player will be awarded the Noa Nadruku Trophy.