Burning ambition behind Radradra switch
Parramatta cult hero Semi Radradra has spoken about his controversial decision to elect for his adopted home nation of Australia rather than his homeland, developing rugby league nation Fiji, saying it was a desire to play with and against the best and get the most out of his talent that drove him.
Radradra believes he can be Fiji's best-ever player and to achieve that lofty goal he needs to play with the best and test himself against the best – tough to do given Fiji's limited international schedule.
Radradra has worn some criticism for making himself available for a powerhouse entity rather than boosting the game globally, but on the eve of his green and gold debut there is no doubt Radradra is the pride of Fiji.
Speaking about his decision, the ever-humble 23-year-old said he had spoken to his family about his decision and received their blessing.
"It means a lot. I wear this jumper with pride as well and I can't wait to get on the field this week," Radradra said.
"Everyone back home, they support whatever decision you make. If you're Fijian, you're still Fijian and they support you with everything. Everyone back home supports me as well for playing this week."
Radradra said that once he had been contacted and then signed by the Eels, he started dreaming about having the chance to be regarded as Fiji's best-ever player – no small task given this is a list that includes names like Petero Civoniceva, Lote Tuqiri and even Jarryd Hayne.
"When I first came playing rugby league, the first club that called me is Parramatta and after that I started dreaming about, 'I want to be the best Fijian player ever'," Radradra said.
"I want to be known as the best Fijian rugby player around the world and I want to be playing the top teams as well. I want to play alongside all the big names. That's how I made my decision and Australia is the right team for me to showcase my talent."
Radradra admitted to getting a bit emotional when told by teammates on Tuesday at training that he had in fact been selected to make his Kangaroos debut, having not been given any advanced indication of his chances by national coach Mal Meninga.
"I found out on the day when they announced the team, I was training at Parra and the boys came up to me, they congratulated me and that's how I found out I made the team," he said.
"It was a bit emotional… Words can't even describe how I feel when they announced my name. Everyone wants to play for Australia."
Radradra's selection drew support from a senior teammate who has himself worn criticism over an eligibility tussle in New Zealand-born Kangaroo prop James Tamou.
Tamou was 13 when he moved to Australia and eventually elected for NSW and Australia, and has since established himself as a regular in both sides and acquitted himself admirably. But along the way he had to endure a storm of criticism for not opting to elect for the country of his birth.
Tamou agreed with Radradra's sentiment that there is nothing about wearing the green and gold of Australia that stops you from being proud of, or representing, your family and heritage.
"I think he's done really well so far. He's copped it a bit but he's like myself, he's here representing his heritage and his family and I don't think there will be a prouder person," Tamou told NRL.com.
"I remember the first time [I was selected] and everything that came out shook me up a bit but he's handled himself really well and everyone will see Friday night what he's capable of and I think he'll close a few critics' mouths."
Tamou said it could even be a boost for Fiji and Fijian rugby league supporters.
"I think his peers, they'll be the first ones to shake his hand and congratulate him," Tamou said.
"Playing for Australia, you watch it as a kid, New Zealand and Australia play and I always thought watching them play, Australia was the pinnacle. There's just so many superstars in the Australian side and he's a superstar now himself and he's in the Australian side now so it's very exciting for him and his family."
Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith – who said recently that he would like to see Radradra play for Fiji to boost the international game – also threw his support behind the powerhouse winger's decision.
"I spoke to him at recovery today. He's obviously very excited about being in camp with the team and really looking forward to his opportunity to represent Australia," Smith said.
"He's made his decision so I'm right behind Semi now. When I made those comments [that he should represent Fiji] he hadn't made his decision.
"The guy has now made his decision based on eligibility and the rules. He's available to play for Australia and he's the best winger in the competition.
"So it's plain and simple. It's great he's playing in my team and hopefully he plays well."
Radradra said he was warmed by the reaction from back home when he rang to let his family know of his success.
"I just called my family in Fiji, they're very excited. It's my decision, they told me they support me in every decision I make and the blessing is with you.
"I speak to my family every week and ask them for advice and stuff. They support me in everything I do, they've very proud of me," he added.