Tuqiri eyes Four Nations farewell
It will mark a symbiotic finish to a representative career that has spanned the highest levels of two codes but Lote Tuqiri does not want Saturday night's return to the Fiji Bati to be his last.
The winner of Saturday night's Pacific Test between Fiji and Samoa progresses to the Four Nations tournament to be played in October-November, joining international powerhouses Australia, New Zealand and England across seven games.
A loss to Samoa this week would spell the end of Tuqiri's senior representative career that first began with Fiji at the 2000 World Cup but the 34-year-old veteran is eyeing a Four Nations swansong and a return to the Rabbitohs starting team.
"It's sort of back-to-the-future for me. My first representative jersey at a senior level was with these guys and it will probably be my last as well," Tuqiri told NRL.com. "I'm really looking forward to representing the Bati again and just proud of what these guys have done and proud of my heritage.
"I'm obviously in the latter part of my career now and it's really good to represent again and represent the country of my birth, which I'm really proud of."
In a stellar career that has included nine Tests, six Origin matches for Queensland as well as 67 Tests for the Wallabies, Tuqiri's most recent outing in the top grade was one of his most forgettable, an error-riddled display in a 30-18 hiding at the hands of the Raiders.
It led many to question whether his 15-year career had run its course but Tuqiri insists he still has the desire and determination to force his way back into South Sydney's NRL team.
"Definitely, I wouldn't still be playing if I didn't have that fire," Tuqiri said. "It was a bit disappointing but what do you do mate? I can only get back out there and try and show what I've got and hopefully get a spot back in the next couple of weeks."
With the presence of Petero Civoniceva in camp, emergence of Ashton Sims as the Bati's new leader and professionalism instilled by coach Rick Stone, Tuqiri has been impressed with the development of Fiji's national rugby league side in recent years.
The Bati's defeat of Ireland in the group stages enabled them to progress to the World Cup quarter-finals last year where they accounted for Samoa 22-4 to reach the semi-finals, matching their finish at the 2008 World Cup.
It and the emergence of cult figures such as Semi Radradra, Marika Koroibete and Eto Nabuli has created tremendous momentum for the game in Fiji and Tuqiri said that he feels the responsibility for continuing that good work first against Samoa and then again in the Four Nations should they qualify.
"When I first played there was only myself that had NRL experience back in 2000 so things have certainly changed and hopefully league's making a real dent in Fiji with the popularity and everything else," he said.
"I think there's a lot of interest now, not just in this game but from last year and from 2008 interest has been building. Just to be considered to play in that top Four Nations would be huge for Fiji.
"I was playing rugby in Ireland [during the World Cup] so I was following every game and they went really well. I was gutted that I obviously couldn't play with them but I've got the opportunity now.
"As soon as I came in [to camp] there was a sense of being here to do a job and at the same time everyone knew what their roles were and what they were doing.
"We do have a certain quality to live up to after last year, I think the boys know that, and we're certainly going to go into this game feeling that we have to as well, if not better, than last year against the Samoans.
"We were second cousins to rugby union over there and I think with this extra exposure and the success that the Fiji Bati team have had, we're really making some ground over there and it will be popular for a while to come.
"It's going to be huge for the country if we can get into that Four Nations at the end of the year."