Fijian flyer chooses Queensland over country
Former Fijian World Cup representative Nemani Valekapa has chosen to decline an invitation to play for his country of birth so that he can honour the state which he and his family now call home.
When the Queensland Residents team gathered for their team photo while in camp on the Gold Coast on Tuesday coach Aaron Zimmerle revealed that Valekapa had that morning turned down an approach from Fiji so that he could play with the Residents against the NSW Residents team in Brisbane on Sunday.
A letter to immigration officials from Broncos coach Wayne Bennett late last year assisted Valekapa's bid to have his visa extended so that he could remain in Australia with his young family and he told NRL.com that he hopes they now never have to leave.
"Of course, I'm a Queenslander," Valekapa said. "When I first come here I talked to my wife and said that this will be home for us. I said to her, 'I'm going to play as hard as I can to achieve all this.'
"It's an honour for me and my family, for me to be able to represent the state of Queensland for this week's game.
"I just had to follow my heart so I'm doing what's good for me and my family. We've been staying here for six years now and this is a really big achievement for me and my family.
"I'm very happy to represent Queensland Residents in 2016."
Given that Valekapa and his wife, Vasemeca and their two young children were on the verge of having to return to Fiji towards the end of last year his appreciation for the opportunities they have in Australia is understandable.
Born in Australia, Nemani Jnr has this year started playing rugby league with the Fassifern Bombers under-6s – the same club his father joined upon moving to Australia – and he and his sister have begun their schooling in Ipswich.
Nemani remains a proud Fijian but he knows his children will have far greater opportunities if he can continue his rugby league career and keep building a life for his family in Australia.
"There was one time there where it was close for me and my family to go back home but I was really happy with the support from the community around Ipswich and the coach for the Broncos," said Valekapa, who toured with the Fijian team at the 2008 World Cup.
"I'm so happy they supported me to live here with my family and live my dream of playing good footy.
"[Life in Fiji] would be a lot different. [My children] have been growing up here with the Australian lifestyle. Their English is good and the school is really good here. Back home is all right but it's a bit of a struggle at home and they have been growing up with the Australian way.
"It's been an amazing journey for me and my family. My wife, Vasemeca, has always supported me too.
"She was with me and pushing me to keep going, to keep going to reach my goal. When we came over here she was a really big part of my life and my footy career."
A key member of the Ipswich Jets team that claimed the NRL State Championship on Grand Final day last October, the 29-year-old speedster said his Residents selection stands alongside playing at ANZ Stadium as dreams he never imagined could come true.
"It was the first time for me to play in an NRL stadium. I have just watched it on TV but to be there in that atmosphere was an amazing feeling," Valekapa said.
"I was never dreaming that I would be standing there and playing for the Ipswich Jets was a good feeling.
"When I came here I was just concentrating on football because back home we don't get paid.
"When I came here I had an opportunity to come to this country and I grabbed that and from there I started to work my way up.
"Then I started to watch Queensland and I started to have faith and believe that one day I would play in this team.
"I thank God too for that, for his guidance and giving me strength. With God, everything's possible, so that was a main thing for my footy.
"Hopefully I will carry on after here and just be patient and humble."