Life After Sports: Why Rabele Stuck With League

Fondly known among fans as Joe Rabele, he first came into the sport in 1992.
28 Aug 2020 10:46
Life After Sports: Why Rabele Stuck With League
Josaia Rabele Dakuitoga after the offical announcement of the Vodafone Fijian Bati head coach at Richards Road, Suva, on August 25,2020. Photo: Simione Haravanua

For the past 28 years rugby league has been the life of Vodafone Fijian Bati head coach Josaia Rabele Dakuitoga.

Fondly known among fans as Joe Rabele, he first came into the sport in 1992.

“I was playing union with Southern District in Sydney, Australia,” he recalled.

“At that time after Fiji’s wins at the Hong Kong 7s, the core of players from that team came to Sydney to play in the World Rugby Rugby League Sevens tournament.”

Rabele said most of the players like Pauliasi Tabulutu, Alivereti Dere, Etuate Waqa and Niko Baleiverata, played with him for the Nabua side.

“We came in to help reinforced the team as we were first timers to playing rugby league, which was a professional sport at that time,” he said.

Rabele said their move to play rugby league resulted in them being handed a life ban by the then Fiji Rugby Union president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

But there was no turning back for this gentle giant from Bagasau, Cakaudrove, as he pursued his career in the sport.

Rabele played for Penrith Panthers in the 1994 National Rugby League (NRL) season before he played for the Bati at the 1995 Rugby League World Cup in England.

From there he signed up with London club Sheffield Eagles and played two seasons in the Super League.


On his return home, Rabele turned to coaching and worked with clubs like Nadera Panthers and Nabua Broncos.

“There a lots of reasons why I opted to stay with rugby league.

“But the main reasons are; I saw that this sport is suitable for us Fijians,” he said.

“It involves a lot of running and that is where our strength lies.

“This is proved by Fiji reaching the semi-final of the last three World Cups. We Fijians love to play a running game and rugby league suits us best.

“Secondly, this sport is a career opportunity for our young players.

“This is where they can earn their living and support their families back home.

“Not every student is suited for the classrooms, there are students with sporting talents which could be utilised in sports like rugby league.”

Rabele said as a Fiji National Rugby League development officer and by working with schools, he was proud to see players like Marika Koroibete, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Suliasi Vunivalu, Viliame Kikau, Tui Kamikamica and now Semi Valemei stamping their mark in the NRL.


“This does not include the countless number of players from the Fiji Residents sides who we have helped set up their contracts with Country Rugby League clubs in Australia,” he said.

“Some of them have gone further and played in the Queensland and New South Wales Cup competitions.

“For these players not making the Fiji Bati is the least of our priorities, but for them to send money back for their families to progress in life is what matters to us.”

This year, Rabele said he was looking forward to his retirement in September.

“I’ll be turning 55 and had been planning with my wife about my retirement from the sport.

“We were planning for me to take a break for a while before I worked on our small business.”


However, all these retirement plans are now on hold after FNRL chairman, Rear Admiral Viliame Naupoto, officially announced Rabele’s appointment as the Bati head coach to next year’s World Cup in England.

This was after coach Brandon Costin had handed in his resignation due to family commitments.

“I was not expecting this appointment,” Rabele said.

“When I relayed the message to my wife and children it was an emotional moment for us. We prayed together before they encouraged me on the big job ahead.”

Rabele got his Level Three coaching qualification in 2018m, but he always kept a low profile as he focused on the development of the sport at grassroots level.

“Rabele is our best man for job. He is a Level Three coach, the highest in the country and that qualifies him for the job,” Naupoto said during Monday’s press conference.

Coaching the Bati to the World Cup is nothing new to Rabele. He did it at the 2008 World Cup where the Fijians reached the semi-final for the first time.

At the 2013 and 2018 World Cups, he had assisted head coach Rick Stone and Mick Potter respectively.


Looking back, Rabele said, he would never forget the work of the past rugby league executives, the late Ilaisa Tagitupou and Peni Musunamasi.

“These were two great supporters of rugby league in the country.

“They came in at a time when the sport was dying. They took a bank loan and mortgaged their properties to revive rugby league in Fiji.

“This brought about growth and today many of our young players and their families have benefitted from it.

“I’ll never forget them,” he added.

Edited by Percy Kean




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