Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama has welcomed the challenge of meeting Australia in the opening World Cup game and called on the likes of Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Tariq Sims and the Saifiti brothers, Daniel and Jacob, to commit to the Bati for the end-of-season tournament.
Naiqama, who has joined the Roosters after returning home from England with three consecutive Super League premierships for St Helens, reflected on the growth in the number of Fijian stars in the NRL ahead of this weekend’s Multi-Cultural Round.
“I remember when I was a young kid, Petero Civoniceva and Lote Tuqiri were literally the only two big names, but now there is Viliame Kikau, Maika Sivo and so many other Fijians playing in the NRL,” Naiqama said.
“If we can get everyone to play in a full-strength Fiji squad, there is no doubt we can have a really good crack at the World Cup.”
With Greece, Italy and Lebanon in the World Cup, as well as the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga, heritage is going to be an important issue this year as Tier 2 nations call on eligible NRL players.
Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also look to bolster their squads with NRL stars.
Among the NRL talent who may represent the birth place of their parents or grandparents at the World Cup in England are:
- Luke Keary (Roosters), Kodi Nikorima (Warriors), Jayden Nikorima (Storm), Josh Curran (Warriors), Jaimin Jolliffe (Titans), Josh Cook (Bulldogs), Ben Marschke (Roosters).
- Nicho Hynes (Sharks), Campbell Graham (Rabbitohs), Euan Aitken (Warriors), Kevin Proctor (Titans).
- Bradman Best (Knights), Tyson Frizell (Knights), Jahrome Hughes (Storm).
- James Tedesco (Roosters), Jake Clifford (Knights), Paul Vaughan (Bulldogs), Nathan Brown (Eels), Trent Loiero (Storm), Oliver Gildart (Wests Tigers), Cooper Johns (Storm), Jack Johns (Knights), Alex Seyfarth (Wests Tigers), Daniel Alvaro (Dragons), Luca Moretti (Eels).
- Lachlan Ilias (Rabbitohs), Peter Mamouzelos (Rabbitohs), Samual Loizou (Eels).
- Mitchell Moses (Eels), Adam Doueihi (Wests Tigers), Josh Mansour (Rabbitohs), Alex Twal (Wests Tigers), Jacob Kiraz (Bulldogs), James Roumanos (Sea Eagles), Brad Morkos (Raiders).
"I will definitely put my hand up for the World Cup as long as I am back playing at the end of the NRL season," said Doueihi, who is recovering from a knee injury that ended his 2021 campaign.
"To represent Lebanon is something I love. The Lebanese people are passionate and they are very supportive of me, which I am very appreciative of. We have had a few meetings already and I am really looking forward to it.
"There's not many Lebanese players in the NRL at the moment but there is a lot coming through and Mitchell Moses will be there, Alex Twal and Josh Mansour will be there, so we will have a strong squad."
According to NRL data, 77 players in this year's Telstra Premiership were born overseas and 161 have a parent born overseas, while many more have grandparents from countries as far spread as Brazil, Cambodia, Finland, Latvia, Nigeria and Russia.
In total, more than 40 countries are represented in the NRL, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Gambia, Japan, Norway, Poland, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.
Shaun Johnson's mother is from Laos, Payne Haas's father was born in Switzerland, Ryan Papenhuyzen has a Dutch grandfather, Dom Young's grandparents are Jamaican and Toby Rudolf, Scott Drinkwater, Brent Naden and Aaron Pene boast German heritage.
The Trbojevic brothers, Tom, Jake and Ben, are eligible to represent Serbia, along with Nick Cotric and Tom Opacic.
"Who knows one day we could play for Serbia. We have talked about it around the dinner table," Ben Trbojevic said. "Jake and Tom and myself follow the game over there a bit so to do it one day would be cool.
"We celebrate Serbian Christmas with dad's side of the family, we usually just have a BBQ and eat cevapčići and cabbage rolls (sarma). Dad made cabbage rolls just the other week and they were yum as."
However, the countries with the most significant number of NRL players, besides Australia and New Zealand, are Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
There are eight NRL players born in Fiji and another eight whose parents were born in the Pacific nation, including Campbell-Gillard, Sims and the Saifiti twins.
Welcome to NRL Multicultural Round!
“With the experience that they have got, they would definitely add a lot of value to our squad," Naiqama said.
"All of the Sims brothers [Ashton, Korbin and Tariq] played with us in 2013, which was great and they really loved it. I also played with Reagan in 2014 against Samoa at Penrith and he really enjoyed making his debut for Fiji."
Fiji have qualified for the semi-finals at the last three World Cups in 2008, 2013 and 2017 but were beaten by Australia on each occasion.
The Bati will meet the Kangaroos at Headingley Stadium in Leeds on October 15, on the same day that England host the opening World Cup match against Samoa at Newcastle's St James Park.
“It doesn’t get any harder than playing Australia in the first game, but personally I love those games," Naiqama said. "It is a real good challenge and there is no doubt that Australia is going to be the team to beat in the World Cup so for us there is no better way to open our campaign than against one of the strongest teams.
"I feel like this year we have got our best chance, especially with a full-strength team. We have seen what Tonga has done, they have beaten the Tier 1 nations [Australia and Great Britain in 2019 and New Zealand in 2017].
“We definitely celebrated Tonga winning because we feel like they are our brothers and hopefully Fiji can emulate what Tonga has done. It would be great if we were to meet them in the final of the World Cup at the end of the year."
Possible Fiji side
Marcelo Montoya (Warriors); Mikaele Ravalawa (Dragons), Taane Milne (Rabbitohs), Waqa Blake (Eels), Maika Sivo (Eels); Kevin Naiqama (Roosters), Brandon Wakeham (Bulldogs); Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Eels), Api Koroisau (Panthers), Jacob Saifiti (Knights), Tariq Sims (Dragons), Viliame Kikau (Panthers), Daniel Saifiti (Knights). Semi Valemei (Raiders), Tui Kamikamica (Storm), Solomone Naiduki (Eels), Isaac Lumelume (Storm).