IT was back in 1998, under the coaching of Ilaitia Tuisese Sr, that Naitasiri first broke into winning trophies in the major union when they defeated Nadroga at Lawaqa Park to win the Benson and Hedges Cup.
The cup had replaced the Farebrother-Sullivan trophy as the championship challenge then. But with the new international laws banning smoking advertisement, the cup was replaced by then Colonial Farebrother Trophy now held by Nadroga.
However, nobody expected Naitasiri to win that day and Nadroga were celebrating the opening of the new Lawaqa Park stadium and played a game on the official opening on Wednesday — much to the opposition from some quarters.
Playing two major games within four days was suicidal but Nadroga officials were confident they had the fitness to recover in time for the big game on Saturday.
But a last minute try by first-five Ro Kini Kiliraki turned the table and fullback Waisea Tuisese's fine goalkicking that afternoon penalised Nadroga for every mistake they made by kicking it into goals.
Coach Tuisese had said after the game that he found out that in past Naitasiri matches, they lost because of the indiscipline of players and the opposing team always turned them into points.
So Naitasiri concentrated on minimising mistakes and they had an accurate goalkicker of their own. So the key was to cut down on indiscipline and Naitasiri won.
Not only did the Highlanders win the B&H Cup they took out the Telecom Cup in 1999 when Waisake Tuisese kicked the winning three points from a penalty to beat Nadroga at the National Stadium.
Naitasiri had both trophies in 1999 and stamped themselves as the undisputed rugby champions of Fiji.
Another major influence to the side was the employment of Wame Naivalu as their fitness trainer.
Naivalu was then working with the Sports Development Unit headed by Joeli Liga, a fitness unit in the Fiji Sports Council.
The department also had the likes of Albert Miller and Henry Elder and they ran programs and workshops of train the trainers in all sports.
Naivalu's work on fitness was such an impact that Naitasiri played poorly a week earlier against Lautoka in the defence of the B&H Cup at Naluwai. They were disjointed and looked fatigued and Lautoka, playing Filimoni Delasau, almost came within a whisker of lifting the cup.
One week later Naitasiri emerged a refreshed side with no signs of the fatigue that had marked their game the week before and held every pass and kicked every goal to clinch the final.
As they say the rest is history.
The Sports Development Unit has been disbanded and now Liga is in Nadi with NZPTC while Naivalu is running the rugby academy at John Wesley College and Miller is at the University of the South Pacific.
Elder is doing his own being a personal trainer for sportsmen and sportswomen in Suva.
The unit was involved in the training of Fiji amateur boxers in the Oceania Games held in 2001 where Fiji won a gold medal, two silver and five bronze in one of the biggest and most successful achievements in local boxing.
Elder was Fiji Rugby Union fitness trainer to the 2007 Rugby World Cup where Fiji lost to South Africa in the quarter-finals. The unit sent their staff to gain their sports fitness trainer levels at the Australian Institute of Sports.
Meanwhile, Nadroga never regained supremacy until six years later when Reverend Joji Rinakama was transferred from up Navosa to Sigatoka Village as its Methodist Church minister.
This Saturday, like for the past years, he travels down again to try and end Nadroga's reign as Fiji's undisputed rugby champions.
But three men he had closely worked together with are running the Nadroga camp. In 2004, Tiko Matawalu and Paula Biu were his players and Esala Nauga his assistant coach.
Now Biu is the manager with Tiko a technical advisor and Nauga the coach.
Every trick in the book will be familiar to each other and a lot depends on how each team executes the game plan mapped out by the coaches.
Naitasiri are riding on a giant wave that swept down the hills onto Ratu Cakobau Park last week and whether they are still at the crest or at the trough will be evident at Lawaqa Park on Saturday and only time will tell.
This week we bring you another of Valelevu's Ratu Jo Rabici's tall stories on rugby matches.
Because he was some kind of winger in the army, all his stories are on wingers and he is also a staunch Tailevu rugby supporter, the second reason being, because the Army Green plays there.
About 20 to 30 years ago in New Zealand they had annual rugby matches between the rest of the Pacific against Fiji on Fiji Day celebrations.
The Pacific Islands team had a winger of the Jonah Lomu calibre who terrorised defenders in full flight with ball in hand.
When the NZ Fijian team was about to run in, the number 14 jersey still had no claimant as he had to face the number 11 Tongan bulldozer in the opposing team.
Luckily for the coach, he noticed a lumberjack from Ra in the crowd and he was willing to face the Tongan giant.
The Ra man had bulging muscles like former Mr Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Fiji players were confident they had the perfect counter for the Tongan.
According to Joe, once the Tongan ran five paces the crowd was off their seats knowing that a try would be scored and as was always the case he did.
The game carried on into the second half with no real clean ball going to the Tongan until the closing stages.
A backline movement inside the 22-metre area saw the ball moved quickly to the huge Tongan, who took five giant steps and the crowd on the stadium had gotten off their seats.
Urged by the roar of the crowd the Fijian lumberjack rose to the occasion and began charging down from the opposite direction.
He did not tackle but raced straight and the two wingers smashed into each other head to head, chest to chest, shoulders to shoulders and the ball popped out of play.
Like two bullet trains smashing into each other, they were also like two mangled metal wrecks as they lay unconscious on the ground.
The referee felt the pulse of the Tongan and called 'STRETCHER' to the medics on the sideline.
As he turned to the Fijian, the tough lumberjack sat up, shook his head and whispered to the referee, "WAI".
Referee: "What's that?"
Referee (shouting to the medics): "Water."
The lumberjack was revived drinking water and was splashed onto his face and head.
Referee:"Are you okay, do you need anything else."
Lumberjack (still dazed): "Ti."
Fijian:"He wants a cup of tea."
Referee (shouting to the sideline medics):"STRETCHER"
According to Jo the referee realised that the concussion was so severe that the Ra lumberjack thought he was still at the breakfast table.
Have a good sporting weekend and may the best team win.