Fiji will be far from easybeats
OPINION: At last count, fewer than 10,000 tickets had sold for Saturday’s ‘‘big’’ match at Westpac Stadium.
There’s a fair chance you didn’t know there was any game on there this weekend, let alone a World Cup quarterfinal.
Who could blame you. After all, New Zealand against Fiji is hardly one of international league’s more fabled rivalries. The two teams have never met before, which says a bit about the code, this event and Fiji’s former place in it.
If the 2017 Rugby League World Cup has registered with anyone, it’s because of Tonga and their fans. They’ve been magnificent and, in the process of doing remarkable things such as beating the Kiwis 28-22, obscured what Fiji have been up to.
There are some funny teams, populated by players with tenuous links, at this tournament. Some of the football’s been of a comical standard too.
Fiji, though, are an impressive team playing impressive football and Kiwi fans needn’t assume that Saturday’s clash will be a walkover. In terms of depth and pedigree, they’re far stronger than Fiji, but you would’ve said the same before they played Tonga too.
So far Fiji have beaten the United States 58-12, Wales 72-6 and Italy 38-10. Hardly powerhouses of the world game, but emphatic outcomes all the same.
Melbourne Storm wing, by way of St Kentigern College, Suliasi Vunivalu has taken his superb club form into this tournament, scoring tries and starting sets of six off in emphatic fashion with his pace, size and evasive skills.
He’s almost matched by Manly’s Akuila Uate, at centre. Then there’s captain, and fullback, Kevin Naiqama, former Junior Kiwi Taane Milne and Canterbury-Banktown’s Marcelo Montoya. All help make Fiji’s backline one of the more explosive around.
In the pack, former Brisbane and North Queensland prop Ashton Sims is another to look out for, along with the Sydney Roosters’ Eloni Vunakece, Penrith’s Viliame Kikau and Jacon Saifiti from the Newcastle Knights. Some blokes might be flat out just playing footy, but Vunakece has three kids, is on the Rugby League Players’ Association board and also works as a rubbish collector and personal trainer. Beat that.
And finally we have the two players who really could cause New Zealand headaches on Saturday: Apisai Koroisau and Jarryd Hayne.
About the most flattering thing you could say about Koroisau is that he was a contender to play hooker for New South Wales this year. Nathan Peats eventually got the job, but Koroisau is a genuine up-and-comer.
Hayne’s name precedes him. In fact there’s few players whose appeal and brand spread beyond rugby league quite like his.
Whether that means he’ll try hard or play well against the Kiwis is a different matter. The fact is he could and history has shown that a good day for Hayne means a good day for the team.
At first glance, a rugby league game between New Zealand against Fiji might not provide the most compelling case to pack Westpac Stadium. Look a bit deeper and we might not only get a real contest on Saturday, but maybe an upset too.