SPORTS

Rusiate Waqa- Nadi’s Most Feared Striker

Former national and Nadi football striker Rusiate Waqa was a diamond in the rough during school football day’s in Ba.
27 May 2020 13:10
Rusiate Waqa- Nadi’s Most Feared Striker
Rusiate Waqa in Nadi.

Former national and Nadi football striker Rusiate Waqa was a diamond in the rough during school football day’s in Ba.

But his relocation to Nadi had him grow into the game, polished and for over a decade, 1977 to 1989, he was lauded as the gem of a forward in the country.

The former district and national team forward’s contribution to the sport remains unparalleled.

“I started playing football during school years between 1973 to 1975 at Ba’s Xavier College,” he said.

“I relocated to Nadi College in 1976”.

And it’s there that he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Amani ‘Pele’ Rokodrea and Marika Ravula, who were Nadi College and later district players.

Waqa though admitted, while at Xavier College he was approached by Ba coach Sashi Mahendra Singh to play for the district.

Ba’s stardom lure as being the habitual Inter District Championship winning side didn’t excite him.

“I had no desire to play for Ba, I was a Nadi guy and that was all to it.”

Singh, a penchant for making things happen, majority of the time for his district was left to rue the opportunity years on.

LOYALTY

For Waqa loyalty to Nadi mattered the most.

He was identified as a district prospect in 1977 by Bobby Tikaram, a then Nadi executive during a Sunday club fixture with Tanoa FC.

In just a few strong outings during the National Football League games in 1977, Waqa had established himself as a thorn of a forward, scoring goals seemingly at will.

The break though, came on a setback a week earlier as Waqa was dropped from the squad over Rokodrea and Anand Raman for an away Sunday league against Suva in 1977.

Tikaram said Waqa was very disappointed and had left the team.

“I had this feeling Waqa had lost all interest, and may not consider returning”, he said.

“I made an effort to go to his village and convinced him to make the trip at my cost, I didn’t feel like him being left back.”

Tikaram said coach Mani Naicker included him for the home game against Ba the following week and did Waqa ever made a grand debut scoring a natural hat-trick.

There on, the forward had cemented his place in the regular district lineup.

Tikaram said Waqa brought his best game day in and day out, better yet the A-plus game against Ba.

That, in the inaugural Battle of the Giants tournament in 1978, he rose to the occasion to power the lone header past Bale Raniga for the championship in front of diehard Ba fans at Govind Park.

Waqa said he was being labeled as a traitor in some quarters as he stood down the Ba break.

GREAT FINISHER

He said Singh held no ill will towards the Nadi forward but praised his efforts.

“Among all the district fans, Singh walked up to me and gave me the congratulatory handshake”.

District foe and Ba’s former goalkeeping great, Raniga reckons Waqa eclipsed as being the best forward for a good decade (1977 to 1988).

“Waqa, was fearsome, great striker and awesome finisher”, said Raniga, who was between the sticks during Ba’s all-conquering 75-80, 6 in a row Inter District Championship wins.

“He was in a league of his own, give him an inch he will go a mile”.

Waqa’s scintillating form had him make the national team, teaming up in the forward position with Ba’s Inia Bola, Lautoka’s Epeli Ragavatu Kosa, Sam Work, and Rewa’s Mohammed Salim.

The quintet played in the position for many international friendlies and World Cup elimination matches at home and on tours.

TOP COACHES

He was every national coaches’ delight, the marksman was top bet for Naicker, Mike Thoman, Sashi Mahendra Singh and Rudi Gutendof’s starting lineup.

“It was always an honour to play under the great Fijian coaches, Mani, Thoman, Singh and Rudi.

“These coaches commanded lot of respect; they perfected my game”.

Sadly, all four coaches have passed away said Waqa.

While the forward made news for his footballing, the one news that sent shockwaves ahead of the 1980 IDC was when he alongside district teammate, Stan Morrel were semi buried under a trench in Lomolomo, Lautoka while working for contractors, Hornybrook-Theis and Leighton (HTL) group, the builders of the Vaturu Dam in Nadi.

“Stan and I were very lucky to have survived, our third partner was not as lucky”, recalled Waqa.

“It was the quick-thinking crew that dug us out or else we both would have been dead”.

Waqa’s title haul include four Battle of the Giants (B.O.G), 1978, 1980, 1983 and 1986, and six National League titles, 1978, 1980 to 1983 and 1985.

From a purely sporting perspective, one of the great injustices of his career was the Lloyd Farebrother, IDC trophy deprived him.

Though the 1-0 loss to Ba in the 1980 IDC final at Govind Park and the controversial 1982 final at the Prince Charles Park are the closest his dream team came to put a claim on the prestigious silverware.

Waqa’s switched to Lautoka in 1988 because of work, where he made instant mark with the Blues helping them win the league title the very year, where he opted to playing more as a midfielder.

“Waqa analysed the game and got a feel for an opponent’s defensive setup, used his speed before putting them to the sword in a flash”, said Raniga.

The 63-year-old former goal scoring icon regarded as one of the finest footballers of his generation lives a simple life in Salovi, Nadi.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

Feedback: leoec@fijisun.com.fj

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