Booze Ban Lifts Bukuya To Newer Height

Fiji Sun - - Sport - Feed­back: leonec@fi­jisun.com.fj

Voda­fone Fi­jian Bati back­row Jayson Bukuya got off the booze and got him­self back to The Shire. Now he’s got a pre­mier­ship ring, a new deal, a grow­ing young fam­ily and is eye­ing a maiden ma­roon jumper. Happy days. Not so much in 2014, when de­spite be­ing on big bucks at the War­riors, Bukuya and his kin found them­selves pin­ing for Cronulla. A re­lease was sought and granted on per­sonal grounds, and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan brought Bukuya back to his “home away from home when I came down from Queens­land.” At the end of last year the now 27-year-old gave up the grog. Some­how he stayed off it as Cronulla went un­der­stand­ably wild over the past months, work­ing through 50 years of de­layed cel­e­bra­tory drinks. Hardly a happy co­in­ci­dence, the back-rower is in ca­reer best form, has re-signed with Cronulla for an­other two years and has Queens­land coach Kevin Wal­ters tip­ping him as a 2017 Ori­gin bolter since shun­ning the sauce.

“I just made the de­ci­sion to give up al­co­hol for my own per­sonal rea­sons, it wasn’t so much for footy,” Bukuya tells foxs­ports.com.au. “With my faith and a young fam­ily now I just wanted to set an ex­am­ple for them. It’s been 12 months now, I’m com­fort­able with where I’m at. When I was away (from Cronulla) I just missed ev­ery­thing about the place. The mates, the friendships and re­la­tion­ship, the club and the area. I’d been here eight or nine years be­fore and I missed it so much when we left. We got back as soon as pos­si­ble and it’s all worked out.” A key com­po­nent of Flanagan’s all-con­quer­ing for­ward ro­ta­tion, Bukuya is a late bloomer thanks to al­most three years early in his ca­reer ru­ined by an­kle and shoul­der in­juries, to the point where he of­ten con­sid­ered giv­ing it away. Last year Wal­ters in­cluded him in the fate­ful Ma­roons Emerg­ing Ori­gin camp that saw eight play­ers banned for break­ing cur­few. Bukuya wasn’t in­volved, but ac­cord­ing to Wal­ters was “bit­terly dis­ap­pointed” with the younger squad mem­bers. The ma­ture head on his shoul­ders, com­bined with a no-frills 24 tack­les and 76 me­tres a game from the Sharks bench in 2016, has Wal­ters con­vinced the Norths As­p­ley ju­nior can cut it in the Ori­gin arena. Bukuya — who cap­tained the Fi­jian Bati in his 10th Test last year af­ter de­but­ing as a two-game NRL rookie in 2008 — is eye­ing both ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­ity at Cronulla and a crack at the game’s high­est level. “I was prob­a­bly one of the el­dest in that camp at 27 so to be a part of that was nice to get some recog­ni­tion and see the set-up they’ve got, it was un­real,” Bukuya said.

Flanagan is suit­ably chuffed. He’s re-hooked the one that looked like get­ting away. The coach’s re­turn from his 12-month ASADA ban two years ago put the club’s dark­est hours be­hind them, and within two weeks Bukuya was back as well. Hav­ing missed only four games in the two sea­sons since, Flanagan is more than happy to push Bukuya’s barrow when it comes to Queens­land se­lec­tion. “We didn’t want to lose Buky in the first place and we put in a real good of­fer for him,” Flanagan says. “But we were lucky enough to get him back in the end and he loves this club, he loves liv­ing in Cronulla and he was out­stand­ing for us all year. If you wanted to pick him in the Queens­land side he’d be great com­ing off the bench.

“He’s got re­ally good leg speed, he’s pow­er­ful, and he’s one of the strong­est lower bod­ies in our club. He breaks tack­les and can play big min­utes if needed, he’s been great since com­ing back to us.” - Fox Sport

Jayson Bukuya.

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