THE Red V protect their baby Dragons. As much as possible, they keep them a safe distance from not only the clutches of other clubs but the insidious influence of media praise. So it is that their promising fullback Henry Raiwalui is handed over reluctantly for this profile.
Coach Steve Price’s assessment of him starts at a dawdle.
Raiwalui, he says, has an “impressive attitude.” His support play and anticipation are strong. Price prefers to talk about the boy’s singing prowess, good enough to earn him an extended stay on Australian Idol, he reckons. Only eventually does the coach concede that if Raiwalui the footballer keeps working hard and avoids getting ahead of himself, “there’s no limit for him”.
Raiwalui, just turned 20, doesn’t seem like someone who’ll get ahead of himself. He’s eager, sure. And determined to use this, his final year in the Toyota Cup, as a springboard into the big league. He’s also clear-eyed.
“My goals for this footy season are to get my fitness level as high as I can and to stay injury-free,” he says.
That said, he adds: “This is the year to try and make a breakthrough. So yeah, I’m going to go hard.”
He knows the NRL will be a big step up in class. “But yeah, I feel ready. I think the [extra] size of the players will be a challenge, but I think the biggest challenge will be mental. You’ve got to be prepared mentally, and once you are, you can take on anything.”
Could you sketch your background for us?
I was born in Sydney. I went to Fiji [Suva] when I was about two because my Dad had to go back there for work. And then, when I was in Year 4 at school, we came back here and I’ve stayed here ever since. My family is my Mum and Dad, my older sister and me. We live in Sydney but I stay in Wollongong during the week.
As a boy, who did you love to watch play?
Andrew Johns. Just the way he read the play. I admired him. Fullbacks? Oh, Billy Slater. Yeah. I’ve tried to base my game on the way he plays.
Is there a player at the Dragons who’s become a role model or a mentor?
Well, just about everyone looks up to Dell [Wendell Sailor]. He’s a character. Just an icon. He takes the time to come and talk to us -20s boys. He just says stay focused on what you’re doing and that anything can be achieved if you believe in yourself, and I’ve really taken that onboard.
Has Wayne Bennett’s influence filtered down to the under-20s?
Oh yeah, heaps. Everyone’s more focused. It’s a lot different this year. I’d say it’s more professional for us -20s boys. He’s really big on developing the younger guys, and everyone just wants to train hard and have a good season this year and just try to impress him.
What do you need to work on to make the leap to the NRL?
Just a bit on my defence. Just to be a bit more confident in myself. When I say confidence, I mean that if I make a mistake I tend to think about it, when I should really just forget about it and keep going forward.
Many people associate footballers of Fijian descent with flair. Does that stereotype apply to you?
Yeah, I’d say that. I’ve always liked to put a lot of flair into my footy. And a lot of pride.
In the NRL, there’s such an emphasis on limiting mistakes. How would you balance that imperative with playing to your instincts?
It’s just a matter of when to turn on the flair. There’s an appropriate time to bring it out and there’s an appropriate time not to. Everyone enjoys it when they see it, but it’s just a matter of picking your moment. If I was playing in the NRL, I’d just bring it out at the right time… and not use it a lot.
And what’s this about a musical streak?
Actually, it runs in the family, eh? My Dad plays the piano and I play drums in church. Yeah, we do that every Sunday. And I learnt piano from my Dad, too.
Do you want to do something with it or is it just a bit of fun?
Funny you ask that, because my coach, Steve Price, told me that Marcia Hines from Australian Idol gave him a call. Apparently the rumour’s been running through the club that I’m a good singer so Marcia Hines wanted me to go audition for Australian Idol.
Is he pulling your leg, do you think?
I don’t know, eh? I don’t want to think about it. But I don’t think I’ll go on the show – too shy, man.