Fiji locals help inspire Bati bonding
Senior Fiji Bati player and Wests Tigers centre Kevin Naiqama says the injection of four local players from Fiji into the Bati squad to face Papua New Guinea on Saturday have added to the cultural experience of being in camp and helped the side gel even more quickly.
The 27-year-old veteran of six Tests for Fiji is now one of the senior men in the squad along with the likes of captain James Storer and as such they take some ownership of welcoming the new players into the fold.
But while most of the squad is made up of current or former NRL players and players from the respective state-based Intrust premierships, there are four players based locally in Fiji who have brought their own unique flavour to this Bati squad.
Tuimasi Pio Moceiwaiyevo Seci, Ratu Jowasa Tubailagi Drodrolagi, Etuate Tamanikaitai Qionimacawa and Iliavi Chris Ravu are certainly not household names over here and coach Mick Potter by his own admission isn't even sure how to pronounce them, but they are just as important to the squad as any other player, according to Naiqama.
"We've got four local boys from Fiji and once we introduced ourselves to them they were just in shock and it definitely makes me proud when I see that," Naiqama told NRL.com of meeting his new teammates.
"It's definitely a reality check and just how blessed we are in the NRL being at that level. Sometimes it can become a routine so it is a reality check when you see that reaction on their face. It definitely makes me more proud to be Fijian.
"They were [awestruck] at the start but they've come out of their shell a bit and that's what we want. Our senior boys want to spend more time with them to make them feel welcome."
The team shares prayer sessions in the morning and evening while a night of ten-pin bowling on Tuesday night as a follow up to Monday's team go-karting session had also brought the group together quickly.
"We want to make them feel welcome, they're just as much a part of this as anyone else and they're definitely feeling that," Naiqama said.
"The Fijian culture, if you've been to Fiji it's always happy people so it's a positive that we gel real easy. It's only been three days but it's like we've known each other for weeks."
It also helps that Fijians are naturally so happy and cheerful – and not to mention musical as well as spiritual – Naiqama added.
"We've got our hymn that we sing before [a game], we do our diversion every morning.
"It's something that's part of our culture, we put our footy on the foundation of God so we do that every morning at 7am and every night at 5:30, we put 15 or 20 minutes aside for that."
Anyone who has visited Fiji will know what Naiqama is talking about when he says everyone there is musical.
"It's weird how it is but we're just blessed in that regard that we can all sing and when our voices come together it sounds real good. Those four Fijians coming in have instilled that into all of us," he said.
Potter told NRL.com that selecting the Fiji-based players had required some assistance but they had been a very welcome addition to the squad.
"We've got some new players that are pretty green to this standard so we've done a fair bit of teaching. The players have got together, in their own way they build that very quickly, that togetherness. They do a lot of singing and praying and there's a good feeling in the camp," Potter said.
"It is a good culture and that brings them together and the pleasing thing is most of the time when they're doing that they're not on their mobile phones.
"When they're in a group everyone's got their heads up communicating or singing rather than having their head in their phones which is what you quite often see now with young players."
The biggest challenge for the new players would be getting used to the intensity of how the game is played by NRL-calibre players, according to Potter.
"There's so many subtleties that we have in the game… every play is daunting for new players, especially fresh from Fiji," he said.
"They're on a steep learning curve and some of the other guys are as well. There's some guys there with names I can't even pronounce but there's some big athletic young men that will give a good account of themselves on Saturday."
Both Naiqama and Potter also threw their support behind new Kangaroo and former Bati Semi Radradra, despite their obvious disappointment at not having him in the squad.
"They're more happy for him because they know what it could mean to his family and himself. Sure they're disappointed they can't play with him but he's doing better for himself and that's great," Potter said.
"He probably makes the Australian team better. Some of the Australian people are probably disappointed because someone's got to miss out because Semi's going to take their place."
Added Naiqama: "Obviously we'd love to have him here playing for Fiji. He has played for us but we can't be angry at him, we love him too. At the end of the day he is Fijian and that's where he comes from but him getting to represent Australia, we're happy for him and we support his decision."