Wed 17 October
Fiji coach Rick Stone is hoping to tempt NRL legend Petero Civoniceva out of retirement to play for Fiji in next year’s World Cup, as the Bati completed their 2012 season with a thrilling victory over Italy ‘A’.
Fiji-born Civoniceva, who played over 300 NRL games for Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers and represented Queensland and Australia during an illustrious 15-year NRL career, hung up his boots in September. But Stone believes the 36-year-old could be persuaded to return to the field with his country of origin next year.
“I hope Petero will be involved with us for RLWC2013,” revealed Stone after watching his young side sneak past the Azzurri in Sydney. “He’s promised that he’s keen to be involved in some capacity, whether it’s playing or support staff, so we’ll just cross our fingers and see what happens.”
Both Stone and Italy coach Carlo Napolitano opted to rest most of their experienced NRL players for the clash at St Mary’s Stadium, and used the match to review some of the young talent available one year out from RLWC2013. And the fast-flowing contest suggests both nations could spring a few surprises at RLWC2013 when their top-flight NRL and Super League stars are added to the mix.
Fiji opened the scoring after three minutes through Etuate Tagicakibau before Italy’s Dom Nasso took control, setting up the Azzurri’s first try and scoring their second. The Italians looked set to take a 10-4 lead into the break until Fiji’s Joe Ulubau pounced onto a neat chip from Henry Raiwalui, who converted for a 10-10 half-time deadlock.
Italy started the second half strongly, stretching to an 18-10 lead thanks to tries from Brendan Santi and Michael La Manna. But the Bati mounted a determined late charge in the final quarter, with scores from Rasotale and Raiwalui, who converted both, building a 22-18 advantage with ten minutes to go. A possible Italy try was ruled out for a knock on, and some passionate Fiji defence saw the Bati hang on for victory.
“I thought it was a great performance from both sides,” Napolitano said. “It wasn’t about the result today – it was about having a look at the (young) players who are going to be part of Italy’s World Cup process. We’ve got 14 NRL lads that I’ve not called upon for this match, and I’m sure we’ll get stronger leading into the World Cup.”
“It was such a close game and to come away with the win is a big bonus,” said Fiji’s Jone Wesele “It’s uplifting for the young players especially, beating Italy who are also going to RLWC2013. We expect Italy to play like that and create an upset at the World Cup…and we’ll definitely be looking to create an upset too.”
The Bati were the surprise package at RLWC08, reaching the semi-final stage alongside heavyweights Australia, New Zealand and England. They are determined to repeat that success next year, despite facing the tough Group A challenge of Australia, Ireland, and England on home soil.
“We would like to do well next year so we can prove it wasn’t a fluke to reach the semi-final in 2008, so we need to either equal or better that,” insists Fiji National Rugby League Chairman Peni Musunamasi.
“It’s not the first time we’ve been pooled with Australia at a World Cup – this is actually the third time. I think we will forget about Australia and England and focus on our first game against Ireland. If we win that we are likely to reach the quarter finals, and we can use the games against Australia and England to prepare ourselves for whoever we are going to meet in the quarters.”
Stone, who is also Wayne Bennett’s assistant at Newcastle Knights, has visited Fiji twice to assess local talent and oversee player development. He is confident of building a strong squad, but is under no illusions about the difficulties posed by the English conditions.
“It’s a massive challenge for our guys,” Stone admits. “They’re not that good with the cold to begin with, and they’re not that good with staying away from home for too long either. But the more experience we have with our NRL and Super League players, hopefully the better off we’ll be and we’ll sprinkle that with a few Fiji and Australia-based players, and form ourselves a formidable squad.”
Fiji will be hoping to bolster their RLWC2013 ranks with a core of experienced NRL stars including Wes and Kevin Naiqama (Knights), Sisa Waqa (Storm), Marika Koroibete (Tigers) and Ashton Sims (Cowboys). Captain Wes Naiqama, who was rested against Italy, hopes a mix of promising youth and top flight experience will be key to the Bati’s success at RLWC2013.
“There’s still a lot of talent coming through in Fiji, and since the last World Cup alone, the game has grown dramatically over there,” Naiqama says. “There’s me and a few other boys who have been there before, but there are a lot of young players coming through. There are obviously spots available for RLWC2013 and the boys know that, so they’re looking to put their best foot forward to get in the squad next year.”
Fiji’s first match at RLWC2013 is against Ireland at Rochdale, and Bati officials hope the venue will offer an element of home advantage. Musunamasi explains: “There’s a big Fijian community in Rochdale and, through history, most of our ancestors who started playing rugby league in England are now based in Rochdale. It’s like we will be going back to meet the second or third generation of those players, so it will be good to play there, meet them and show them our Fijian culture.”
FIJI – 22
Kevin Naiqama (Newcastle Knights), Kitione Rasotale (Fiji resident), Joe Ulubau (Burwood United, Aus), Viliame Rakuli (NSW Country RL, Aus), Etuate Tagicakibau (NSW Country RL, Aus), Henry Raiwalui (Illawarra Cutters, Aus), Ryan Millard (Parkes Spacemen, Aus), Junior Roqica (Bulldogs NSW Cup, Aus), Aaron Groom (Asquith, Aus), Semi Cakau (Fiji resident), Peni Botiki (Illawarra Cutters), Saravu Fatiaki (Penrith Panthers), Timoci Yauvoli (Fiji resident). Substitutes: Semisi Tora (NSW Country RL, Aus), Hamilton Hughes (Burwood United, Aus), Junior Rika (Wentworthville, Aus), Atunaisa Turagaiviu (Fiji resident), Netani Suka (Wentworthville, Aus), Jone Wesele (NSW Country RL, Aus)
Tries: Tagicakibau (3), Ulubau (37), Raiwalui (62), Rasotale (70)
Goals: Raiwalui 3/4
ITALY ‘A’ – 18
Dom Nasso, Michael La Manna, Dom Brunnetta, Dean McGinchy, Liam Zollo, Benito Stewart, Grant Rovelli, Sam Gardel, Dean Parata, Paul Vaghan, Ben Musolino, Rocky Trimarchi, Brendan Santi. Substitutes: Luke Vesico, Ryan Ghietti, Dennis Tomarchio, Ryan Tramonte, Ben Falcone, Daniel Alvaro.
Tries: Brunnetta (15), Nasso (25), Santi (46), La Manna (52)
Goals: Stewart 1/2, Ghietti 0/2
Half time: 10-10