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I’m lucky: Nabuli

December 31
12:25 2012

Etonia Nabuli has signed with the Panthers after being spotted by Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler in Fiji. Source: THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

     of The Daily Telegraph

Etonia Nabuli has carried bags for hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. But as for his own?
“Twice before,” the Fijian porter says with a smile. “Both times when I travelled to Australia for Rugby 7s. So now to be here a third time … I am very lucky.”
An Intercontinental Hotel employee only a fortnight ago, Nabuli is the anonymous Pacific Islander signed, sight unseen, to an NRL contract after literally bumping into rugby league legends Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns while at work.
Arriving in Sydney on Friday, the 23-year-old will live with Fittler and his family at Rushcutters Bay before finding more suitable accommodation closer to his new club, the Penrith Panthers, in coming months.
His arrival marks the first stage of a bold project, orchestrated by Fittler and Johns, to save Fijian rugby league after a series of administrative dramas have seriously impacted the game’s wellbeing and growth locally.
The pair recently visited the country, staging coaching clinics, school visits and charity fundraising promotions. It was during that time they bumped into Nabuli while he was carrying bags into their hotel foyer.
Asked for his first impression, Johns says: “I thought if this kid were a racehorse, I’d pay $1 million for him”.
Fittler agrees, saying the pair couldn’t believe his skills set when they rushed him to a nearby park for testing.
“He was born an athlete,” the Kangaroo great says. “Obviously, there’s a lot of work required between what he’s done and playing in the NRL. But in terms of football ability, I really believe we’re just scratching the surface.”
Incredibly, Fittler and Johns were forced to foot all costs for their Fijian trip after the NRL showed “zero interest” in the project. The NSW legends are also helping finance Nabuli’s stay, with the promise of more cash from their own pockets to get rugby league on the island thriving.
“It’s disappointing the NRL have chosen not to be involved,” Fittler says. “Especially when not only is Fiji such an untapped resource for rugby league, but you have someone like Andrew Johns, an Immortal, keen to give up his time to help.
“We hadn’t even made any mention of money to the NRL and, still, we never got to sit down at a table and discuss our idea. The whole thing was hopeless.”
Thankfully, however, others do believe. Like Penrith boss Phil Gould, who signed Nabuli solely on the recommendation of Fittler.
Newcastle assistant coach Rick Stone, who oversees the Fijian national side, is also holding talks with the pair while some of the country’s most famous league names – think Lote Tuqiri, Jarryd Hayne, Petero Civoniceva and Akuila Uate – are desperate to be involved, too.
Even the AFL are getting in on the act, setting up their own High Performance Unit on the island.
And it’s all to find that one success story like Nabuli. The softly-spoken athlete who slipped anonymously through the arrivals gate of Sydney airport on Friday, only to then be confronted with his first ever interview.
“I’ve always played rugby but have watched a lot of league,” he told News Limited.

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"I support it 200 percent, I am with FRU, the country and the people of Fiji. We want to bid to get one of the HSBC stops in Fiji."
Waisale Serevi
Sevens Legend
December 2012
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