Jayson Bukuya

SEASON 2008 was a whirlwind for Sharks back-rower Jayson Bukuya. He made his NRL debut and played a crucial role in Fiji’s superb World Cup run to the semi finals, so the 19-year-old can still smile despite suffering a major ankle injury in the 2009 trials.

While the opening two months of the new season will probably be spent in rehab thanks to a high ankle sprain suffered in Darwin, Bukuya refuses to get negative as he chases down a more permanent spot in the Sharks’ top squad.

He was outstanding for Fiji during the World Cup playing at lock and finished the tournament going head-to-head with his club captain Paul Gallen – an experience he’ll never forget.

The clever ball-playing and hard-running back-rower or centre certainly has the talent to compliment the big names of Tupou, Maitua and Gallen at the Sharks and you’d be a brave person to bet against him adding to his two NRL appearances in 2009 despite the early setback.

“My number one goal is to get back on the field and then push for first grade selection,” he confirms. “I will take my time with the recovery, to make sure it’s right, but when I’m ready I’ll start from scratch and work my way through the lower grades back to the top.

“I’m up to the challenge. There is nothing you can do about injuries happening, so you take it in your stride and focus on recovery.”

How do you rate your World Cup experience?

The World Cup was the best experience of my life thus far. It was amazing, exciting and just great. I made so many friends for life by being part of that group of guys. We all loved representing our country and bonding together under the same flag. Our success came from our common desires and our common background. We all knew what we were playing for. We have experienced the Fijian way of life and knew how much good performances would be appreciated back there.

All the boys wanted to prove to our sponsors and our country that we aren’t a lower-class sport compared to union and we could in fact do them very proud. When we returned to Fiji after the tournament the parades and receptions were phenomenal and I felt like a superstar! I think I’d lost my shirts and gear to the locals the second I hopped off the plane!

Where did you start playing rugby league?

I started playing when I was 12 at the Aspley Devils in Brisbane and moved to Norths Devils when I was 17. Straight after school I moved down to Cronulla and in my first year I played some SG Ball, Jersey Flegg and Premier League. Then last year I moved in to the Toyota Cup squad and was fortunate enough to make my NRL debut.

That’s a late start compared to a lot of players… Were you into other sports?

Rugby league never really twigged with me before then. But then some friends asked me to come and play with them and I just thought I would. I went to private school so I had played some rugby union before, so the transition wasn’t too hard. We had a little bit of success in the juniors but we could never win a competition. We’d always make the finals but go no further.

What was the lead up to your NRL debut like?

The lead up to playing in the NRL is just awesome and feels totally unbelievable. First you get asked to train fulltime, and that gives you a boost to work even harder. And then when you get a chance to actually play, it’s unreal. I was told about three days beforehand. I went away with the team on a training camp and Sticky (coach Ricky Stuart) told me I was going to be in the team and making my debut and the nerves all started coming at once. I remember my first hit and my first run and just the amount of nerves I had. Plus I remember the pace of it all. I was rocked by how fast it is… it was a real eye-opener.

What is your preferred position?

I love playing back row, that’s my favourite, but when you are talking NRL places I would be just as keen to play centre if that’s where an opportunity was. These days centre is very similar to the back row, so I’m comfortable there. But if I had a choice I’d prefer the forwards.

You played plenty of time in the Toyota Cup and are still eligible. What are your thoughts on the competition?

I think the NYC (National Youth Competition) is great. Just the number of debutants that came out of it last season is proof enough that the Toyota Cup is a successful breeding ground. I enjoy playing in it and getting a feel for NRL life. Obviously it’s not as quick as the top grade but it is still quality footy.

What do you like to do away from footy?

Not much. I like to use the time to chill out and relax down the beach or with mates. I’m laid back and like to go with the flow!