Vunivalu: Fiji want to prove World Cup was no fluke
Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu says the benchmark has been set by Fiji after the 2017 World Cup and the mission now is to not let that standard slip.
Fiji takes on PNG on Saturday at Campbelltown Stadium in the Ox & Palm Pacific Test series. And although there are nine members remaining from the squad that reached the semi-finals, there are key members missing through injury like hooker Apisai Koroisau (foot), forwards Korbin Sims (jaw) and Viliame Kikau (knee).
But Vunivalu says now the Fijian team has created an expectation – following its string of wins over USA, Italy, Wales and New Zealand to reach the WC semis – the players don't want to rest on that achievement.
"We just want to kick that Bati form on," Vunivalu told NRL.com.
"We did really well in the World Cup. But we can't just stop at that. We're not taking this game lightly – you can tell by how everyone is putting in."
The other driving motivator is the people of Fiji more than 3200km away.
"We have a lot of pride in our country and we love playing for Fiji," Vunivalu said. "When we step on the field and sing our anthem we get really emotional because it means a lot.
"We think of everyone back home who helped us to where we are at the moment."
Fullback Kevin Naiqama, who will captain Fiji for the eighth time on Saturday, wore his heart on his sleeve when tears streamed down his cheeks as players sung the anthem ahead of the USA game in Townsville.
"It's always an honour and privilege to represent our families and our homeland of Fiji," Naiqama told NRL.com. "I always get a bit emotional singing the national anthem. I know the other boys do too – they feel that pull on the heartstrings.
"All our families and friends back home will be watching us. They might not have much but they always have a smile on their faces. We play for them."
And it will be a slightly different style of play since former Penrith and Melbourne assistant coach Matt Adamson is in charge, taking over from World Cup mentor Mick Potter.
"I had him in the under 20s [at the Storm] so I'm familiar with how he coaches," Vunivalu said. "Some of the boys are still trying to get a feel for him. He won't be changing much.
"It may be a few new players, new coach, but we're sticking to the same formulas we've always used."
Fiji have 10 players with NRL experience, compared with five for PNG.
Naiqama says fans of Fiji would still see the 'Mr Entertainers' style of football.
"People look at Fiji and see a Sevens type of football – people throwing the ball around and creating something from nothing," Naiqama said.
"I guess that's the Fiji flair, but we've still got to make sure we keep some kind of control. Offloads are great but if you don't control them you lose possession."
The other new element in 2018 is swapping around the halves. Henry Raiwalui has moved from halfback to five-eighth and Jarryd Hayne will play his first game at No.7.
"They built a nice, successful relationship in the World Cup. They've got a week now to rebuild that," Naiqama said. "They complement each other like good halves should.
"It helps a lot having that core of nine players there because relationships are already established.
"The boys have been talking about this match for a while. It's already such an enjoyable time in camp. It kind of brings back why you love playing in the first place."