Despite losing to Samoa, Fiji again showed how far the game has come in their country with a stirring display. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos
Australia-Fijian legend Petero Civoniceva says more Test matches between emerging nations is a necessity for the game to grow outside of Australia, New Zealand and England.
The 38-year-old shocked the rugby league community when he came out of retirement on Saturday to help cover for the loss of rugby union-bound Taqele Naiyaravoro. But not even the presence of Australia's most capped forward could prevent Samoa from clinching the final spot in the Four Nations at the end of the year with a 32-16 win.
"Just having a chat to the coach about what we were going to do, the question was asked if I'd be keen," he said.
"It's one of those things you can't say no to. Obviously it would've been ideal to have a bit more game-time under my belt but honestly it was all about just getting out there with the boys and it was just great to experience it one more time."
In a week where critics questioned the validity of a representative round that puts the NRL competition on hold, Civoniceva wondered why more wasn't being done to grow the international game.
"People are entitled to their opinion. If only they can get a chance to come in and see what camps are like, see what it means to our communities, they'd see how much passion there is for rugby league," he said after the game.
"Rugby league is a massive game. It's sweeping across the Pacific islands like you wouldn't believe. In Fiji itself, rugby league's just taken off. We're seeing schools that were predominantly rugby union schools – and very good ones at that – wanting to play rugby league. These things are unheard of in the islands, in Fiji in particularly.
"So why not keep running with this? Let's keep building it, let's keep boosting it by having more regular Test matches and more development officers going out to the island nations."
While admitting that the NRL was a priority here in Australia, the former Bronco said the boisterous crowd of 9,063 showed there was a need to expand the game beyond its current borders.
"Hopefully we're going to see more games, more opportunities. Hopefully the game, the NRL and the international game will provide more opportunities for developing nations to continue to have regular Test matches," he said.
"When we talk about wanting to grow the game, it's an absolute necessity. As you can see, the amount of support, the amount of players that we have from these countries that are willing to put their hand up and play for their countries, we've got to do it.
"Obviously we focus a lot on the NRL, but there's a love for rugby league beyond these borders. So it's important that we keep encouraging that growth of the game and doing our bit to encourage it."