By Ben Ryder
With the second round of Oceania Cup games scheduled in October/November 2019, Rugby League Planet takes an in-depth look at each competing island nation and what the game of Rugby League is doing for them, as well as their strengths, weaknesses, and the nations chances at winning their respective pools.
This week it’s the Fiji Bati
Recent History: The Bati are riding the high of a huge win over Lebanon in June, where they converted a 34-4 lead at halftime into a dominant 58-14 win. The likes of Maika Sivo and Suliasi Vunivalu had a field day out wide on the back of some hard and fast running that Lebanon just couldn’t match. Throw in the surprise success at the 2017 RLWC, in which they beat the tier one Kiwis in the Quarter Finals, and the fact they only need to beat nations ranked below them in their pool (Samoa ranked 7th and Papua New Guinea ranked 10th, with the Bati sitting 5th in RLIF Rankings), Fiji can be considered favourites for winning the Oceania Shield in Pool B.
Strengths: Their spread of talent between positions. With some serious try scoring ability between the likes of Sivo, Vunivalu and Mikaele Ravalawa out wide, grunt in the middle with Korbin Sims, Tui Kamikamica and Jayson Bukuya, and a potent combination of both in Villiame Kikau, the Fijian Bati are perfectly well rounded with a mix of seasoned NRL veterans and exciting young talent to take on Samoa and PNG.
Weaknesses: Fiji have to be careful to not get too flashy in their style of play, with their recent losses filled with errors from rolling the dice with unnecessary offloads. A lack of experience in the spine may also come back to hurt the Bati but in saying that, Fiji have been able to win in convincing fashion without the likes of Jarryd Hayne and Apisai Koroisau on deck.
Their X-Factor: Maika Sivo. The Parramatta flyer tops the NRL try scorers tally with 12 tries in 14 games to go with his 12 line breaks and 51 tackle breaks. He scored a double and ran for 150 meters on his debut against Lebanon, and if his form for the Eels is anything to go by, he’s got plenty more where that come from.
Rising Star: Tui Kamikamica. The towering Storm prop ran for 140 meters and scored the Bati’s first try against Lebanon with a bullocking run. Still finding his feet with the Storm in the NRL, Kamikamica has played 13 games as a bench weapon for Melbourne this year, with his toughness in the middle being rated highly by Craig Bellamy. That alone should make opposition players nervous, expect him to be a leader for the Fijian forward pack in the coming years.
What It Means To Them: Fiji’s community have caught the Rugby League bug, riding the wave of a successful 2017 RWC campaign by the Bati. This was followed by the announced Australian Government’s financial backing earlier this year for a bid led by Civoniceva to have a Fiji team enter the NSW Cup in 2020, not to mention the announcement of at least one NRL Pre-Season match coming to Suva in 2021. The plans for 2020 and 2021 are a huge boost to the island nation, Civoniceva himself saying in an interview back in January; “For young kids from the villages who will get the chance to join a professional training set up, it will magnify the natural talent that we all know kids in Fiji have by putting them on the big stage in the NSW Cup and expose them to interest from an NRL side. That could be life changing. “That is the aim of this whole development pathway and hopefully we will see the next Suliasi Vunivalu or Viliame Kikau or Apisai Koroisau, because there will be more kids in Fiji who will start to dream big about playing in the NRL”.