SPORTS

Rugby League’s World Cup Looms

The RLWC is from October 23 to November 27.
30 Apr 2021 10:20
Rugby League’s World Cup Looms
The Vodafone Fijian Bati team during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Photo: RLWC

As the Vodafone Fijian Bati steer their rudder towards the Rugby League World Cup in England later this year, excitement is building around the sport despite a pandemic at our doorstep.

Such is the power of sports; it has a calming effect on the face of the unknown where the bounce of the Steedon (ball) decides the fate of 13-men who will rise as the gladiators of the code?

The RLWC is from October 23 to November 27.

As announced this week, Fijian Bati coach, Joe Rabele will soon leave for Australia to see first-hand and discuss with players on the plans ahead of the premier stage of the sport.

Rabele’s trip later next month will start the ball rolling in what is likely to be the first of many one-on-one with players and manage­ment alike.

This is on the back of the an­nouncement of a 48-member ex­tended squad by the Fiji National Rugby League (FNRL) in December last year.

And with less than six months re­maining before the kick-off of the RLWC, we will bring you weekly updates with statistics and all you need to know about the tourna­ment.

The tournament

This will be the sixteenth staging of the tournament since 1953. Fiji is pooled with 11-time world cham­pions Australia, Italy, and Scotland in Group B.

The Bati open their campaign against the Kangaroos on October 23, at KCOM Stadium in Hull, be­fore meeting Italy on October 30 at Kingston Park, Newcastle.

The Bati will again line-up at Kingston Park for their final group match against Scotland on Novem­ber 6.

Fiji will enter the 2021 edition of the RLWC with a 4-1 win record, losing just one match on its previ­ous five encounters at the tourna­ment.

The Bati recorded wins against Wales (72-6), Italy (34-0), USA (58-12) and the historic gritty 4-2 win over the New Zealand Kiwis, but lost only to the Kangaroos (54-6).

Interestingly, though the Kanga­roos has been the only team that has blocked Fiji’s way consecu­tively in reaching the final of the tournament on three previous occasions, kicking Fiji out of the tournament in 2008 (52-0), 2013 (64-0), 2017 (54-6), with an average los­ing margin of 32. All these losses were in the semi-finals.

The closest Fiji has come to beat­ing Australia was in 2013 where the side lost 34-2 in pool play.

Rabele’s men may however this year, fancy their chances against an undercooked Aussie side that has yet to announce its warm-up matches- thanks to COVID-19.

Fiji has a good chance of beating Italy. The only time the two teams met previously at the tourna­ment was in 2017 where the Bati triumphed 34-0. Queensland Reds star Suliasi Vunivalu announced himself at the tournament scoring three tries.

Fiji’s match against Scotland will be a fiery one given the rivalry be­tween the two sides. When they last met in 2008, the Scots won by a whisker 18-16. It was also a match that many will remember a young Jason Bukuya trading blow’s with the Scots.

The Bati will want to get its re­venge against the Scottish High­landers.

The Fiji Bati is the only Tier-2 na­tion that has reached the semifinals of the RLWC consistently in the past three RLWC.

Barring any upsets, should Fiji finish runners-up to Australia, they will play the New Zealand Kiwis in the quarterfinals in what will appear to be a re-match of the 2017 quarterfinal which the Bati won (4-2).

Should Fiji beat the Kangaroos, Italy, and Scotland; they will likely meet Papua New Guinea or Ireland.

Rebele, however, knows that no team is a walk in the park because they were reminded and humbled by Scotland 16-18 in 2008 after rid­ing high from thumping France in their first match.

Preparations

The Fiji Bati last played together as a team in the Oceania Cup in 2019, winning against Papua New Guinea (22-20) in a pulsating match and thumping Samoa (44-18).

While international rugby league Tests may be up in the air, Rabele’s visit to Australia may prompt the National Rugby League (NRL) to stitch up mid-year tests for Pacific sides either against Papua New Guinea in the annual Melanesian Cup or either match against either Samoa, Tonga or Lebanon (Hayne-Mannah Cup).

Fiji Bati fans will happily note that under the Vuvale Partnership the participation of a Fijian team in the New South Wales rugby league competition has been made possible, thanks to the funding by the Australian Government, which has allowed the Kaiviti Silktails to participate in the Ron Massey Cup.

The opportunity provided to lo­cals under this assistance cannot be over-emphasised. It has pro­vided the 14 locals named in the extended squad an opportunity to develop their game at a higher standard and will give NRL-based players a run for the white jumper.

The Battle of the Bati may this year be played in Australia, given the uncertainty of our borders and quarantine requirements in all countries and the final 25-member traveling squad will have a tough time grinding it out with their brothers in the Silktails.

FNRL under the able leadership of chief executive Don Natabe and guidance of chairman Viliame Naupoto has secured a warm-up match for the Bati against England- eight days before they face Austral­ia and excitement is already build­ing up in Britain.

The match will be played at the home of the Rochdale Hornets, the venue which also hosted Fiji Bati versus Ireland in 2013.

The match coincides with the 150th anniversary of rugby league in the city – the city is also known for its large Fijian diaspora, the second largest in the United King­dom only second to London.

Hornets have a special relation­ship with Fiji after signing four players from the Pacific Island, mainly from Nadi in the 1960s – Orisi Dawai, legendary Josefa Levula, Voate Driu and Laitia Ra­vouvou. They were pioneers of the game despite there were no local competition or national outings.

England head coach Shaun Wane is delighted to be taking the game to the heartlands and to be facing an exciting team like Fiji.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Wane said.

“You see the talent in the Fiji league and union teams. They’re a talented bunch, they’re competitive and it’s going to be a full-on game which I’m looking forward to.”

Fiji Bati player Kevin Naiqama is as excited as Wane.

He is one of a handful of Super League players, along with Hull Kingston Rovers forward Korbin Sims and Leeds Rhinos’ King Vuni­yayawa, who are likely to be lining up for the three-time semi-finalists at this year’s World Cup.

“I love where I’m from and any op­portunity I get to play for my coun­try, I’ll always put my hand up,” Naiqama said.

“With Test matches and the World Cup being put back on the rugby league schedule at the end of this year, a lot of players are excited to play for their nations.

“This has been four years in the making so it will be a great compe­tition to watch.”

The squad

The 48-man squad, named by Ra­bele, features 22-players contracted to NRL clubs and three from Super League.

The squad will continue to be re­fined as the 2021 RLWC approaches.

FIJI BATI EXTENDED SQUAD

1. Kevin Naiqama (St Helens)

2. Taane Milne (South Sydney Rabbitohs)

3. Semi Valemei (Canberra Raiders)

4.Tyrone Phillips (Canterbury Bulldogs)

5. Lovodua Joe (St George-Illawarra Dragons)

6.Brayden Wiliame (St George-Illawarra Dragons)

7. Akuila Uate (Unattached)

8. Maika Sivo (Parramatta Eels)

9. Issac Lumelume (Melbourne Storm)

10. Kane Evans (Parramatta Eels)

11. Apisai Koroisau (Penrith Panthers)

12. Reagan Cambell-Gillard (Parramatta Eels)

13. Jason Bukuya (Dubbo Sims)

14. Tariq Sims (St George-Illawarra Dragons)

15. Korbin Sims (St George-Illawarra Dragons)

16. Rhys Miller (Canterbury Bulldogs)

17. Daniel Saifiti (Newcastle Knights)

18. Jacob Saifiti (Newcastle Knights)

19. Marcello Montoya (Canterbury Bulldogs)

20. Mikaele Ravalawa (St George-Illawarra Dragons)

23. Sitiveni Moceidreke (North Sydney Bears)

24. Viliame Kikau (Penrith Panthers)

25. Pio Sokobalavu (Wests Magpies)

26. Tui Kamikamica (Melbourne Storm)

27. Ben Nakubuwai (Salford Red Devils)

28. Brendon Wakham (Canterbury Bulldogs)

29. Pio Seci (Nabua Broncos)

30. Penioni Tagituimua (Nadera Panthers)

31. Ratu Timoci Namotokula (Police Sharks)

32. Apakuki Tavodi (Burenitu Cowboys)

33. Waisale Vesikula (Davuilevu Knights)

34. Tikiko Noke (Ravoravo Rabbitohs)

35. Ratu Luke Nadurutalo (St Marys)

36. Maika Tudravu (Central Capras)

37. Joseph Ratu Vakacereivalu (Wests Tigers)

38. Waqa Blake (Parramatta Eels)

39. Apimeleki Lutu (Police Sharks)

40. Lamar Liolavave (Wests Tigers)

41. King Vuniyayawa (NZ Warriors)

42. Ropate Tobe (Mataivalu Bears)

43. Rusiate Ratu (Sara Dragons)

44. Maika Serulevu (Ravoravo Rabbitohs)

45. Meli Nabura (Coastline Roos)

46. Josaia Raboiliku (Coastline Roos)

47. Salimoni Ralulu (Ravoravo Rabbitohs)

48. Mosese Qionimacawa (USP Islandrs)

The Vodafone Fijian Bati team during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Photo: RLWC



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