The chances of unearthing the next Semi Radradra have increased after footballing powerbrokers headed to Fiji to explore the feasibility of the Pacific nation fielding a team in the NSW Intrust Premiership competition next year.
High-ranking NSWRL officials David Trodden, Barrie-Jon Mather and Bob Millward are spending the weekend in Fiji inspecting the infrastructure to determine if it is up to the standard required to host a competition that is the chief pathway to the NRL. The trio have scheduled a series of meetings with the bid team, the consortium backing them and key government officials as the parties near an agreement.
“We’ve worked through a lot of the detail with them and we’re now in a position where the next step in the process is to inspect all of their facilities, hosting arrangements and travel accommodation to ensure they are up to standard,” NSWRL chief executive Trodden said.
“If we can tick all that off, we’re another step down the track to having a Fiji team in the competition in the 2017 season.
“It’s very important for the game as a whole. The ARLC have acknowledged the importance with the recent work they did with their pathways project, in which they envisaged a Fijian team in the competition.”
Suva’s ANZ Stadium, which has a capacity of about 20,000, has been earmarked as the prospective team’s home ground. Officials hope the Fiji team can replicate the success of the PNG Hunters in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup, a team that has enjoyed a cult following since joining the competition in 2013.
Fijian bid team co-ordinator Petero Civoniceva, one of the nation’s greatest league players, has been a driving force in negotiations. The legendary Brisbane, Penrith, Queensland and Australia prop believes the game will flourish in the region if the proposal is approved.
“The growth of rugby league will explode,” Civoniceva said. “It’s just going through the roof in terms of the numbers of players registering at schools to play.
“It’s all on the back of the amazing exposure rugby league gets on free-to-air TV here.
“If we have a team of local players, playing against Intrust Super Cup players week in and week out, the growth of rugby league here will go through the roof.
“When we’re talking about the game internationally, it will be an amazing step forward for Fiji.
“We won’t have any trouble unearthing the next Semi Radradra, Marika Koroibete or Lote Tuqiri. [Laughing] or maybe even another Petero.”
“Obviously it’s in our blood, whatever code it is to see the way rugby league has grown in the country is very exciting and people in Australia at all levels understand the strength and power of the Fijian player and that’s why everyone is closely looking at this.”
Civoniceva has been working on the ambitious project with Rockhampton businessman Greg Brown for several years and their dream is nearing realisation. Civoniceva believes there is sufficient talent in the region to field a team that will be immediately competitive.
“Fijians love the toughness, speed and athleticism of rugby league,” he said. “You go to any village on a Friday or Saturday night and you’ve got the NRL on all the TVs.
“Everyone we have spoken to in the country, from the government to the tourism ministers, are extremely excited about the potential for the Sydney teams coming to Fiji.”
“We hope to make the gate admissions to our games as cheap as possible because we see is it as important that everyone should have the ability to come and support the game.
“And that’s something that we’ve spoken about at great length that we can produce a very good product that Fiji can be proud of.
“Not just the NSW Cup but our focus is at Primary school level and then we work our way up, that way then there is a progression there is a stepping stone for children to aspire to reach the next level and that’s our end goal which is to make the best Fiji Bati player to represent Fiji.”
The emergence of Radradra, a cult figure following an unlikely journey to stardom at Parramatta, has inspired local interest in the sport and raised awareness of the depth of talent in the region.
The NRL floated its intention to launch a platinum league, a revamped second-tier competition that would split NSW into 11 regions. The plan was hatched by former NRL head of strategy Shane Richardson, but his departure to South Sydney and the absence of a head of football after Todd Greenberg’s move to the top job at head office have left uncertainty about if and when the proposal will be implemented.