By Rich Cowley, Date: 30/11/17 (Photo Credit NRLPhotos)
Fijian Rugby League came of age during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup tournament. The Bati captured the public’s imagination not only back in Fiji but across the rugby league world.
The passion shown by the Fijian team during the national anthem was awesome to watch. Bati’s try fest kept the fans and TV viewers in awe. Their post-match hymns involving the opposition team was something else. The Fijian’s showed why the World Cup is key to growing the rugby league brand outside of its traditional strongholds.
During the Pool rounds the Bati stamped their dominance with convincing wins over the USA 58 – 12, Wales 72 – 6 and Italy 38 – 10.
The defining moment for Fiji was their gutsy upset win over New Zealand 4 -2 on the Kiwis home turf in the quarter-finals. It was a turning point in the tournament and international rugby league as a whole. The Fijian’s had captured the imagination of fans and put the 2017 RLWC on the map for the average sports follower. This was without doubt Fiji Bati’s greatest ever victory and you could see it on the faces of the players when the full time hooter went off.
The problem for the Fijian’s was the win over the Kiwis was such an emotional highlight for the team that they found it hard to keep up that same level of intensity the following week.
In the semi-final as Australia started stretching their lead the Fijian’s mentally and physically couldn’t stay in the game. Some would argue that the Fijian’s played their Grand Final the previous week and left their worse game till last. Instead of playing their own style of footy which had been so successful over the previous four weeks it seemed like the Bati tried to play the “Australian Style” against the Kangaroos. History will show you can’t beat the Kangaroos if you are using the same style of footy against them.
Taking nothing away from the Fiji Bati, to make it to the semi-final for the 3rd consecutive World Cup is a huge achievement. Especially for a nation that has only seen rugby league start to take a foothold in Fiji over the last 10 years.
The flow on effect for rugby league in Fiji and the Pacific in general cannot be underestimated. With mass media coverage back in Fiji and fans across the Fijian Islands getting behind their team along with anyone else who didn’t go for the Kangaroos, rugby league has had a big boost from the Bati. Rugby league is the only team sport where Fiji can realistically win a World Cup.
The Fiji NRL Bid team have been lobbying anyone who will listen about entering a team in the NSW Intrust State Cup Competition which is the 2nd tier behind the NRL in NSW. It seems from all reports that a Fijian team in the NSW competition is nearly a reality. Sign-off from all parties is close for a team to enter the competition in 2019.
This is the development pathway that Fijian rugby league has sorely missed. Having players learn from the same skill handbook as current NRL players will do wonders for the team at international level.
Sometime it’s hard to find a really good story in Rugby League but the heroics of the Bati is one of the highlights for rugby league in 2017.
Thank you Fiji Bati! You really entertained us with your skills and humbled us with your inclusiveness during this World Cup. You have shown the World all that’s good about rugby league.