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Wing of all wings

Manoj Kumar
Saturday, April 27, 2013

WE'VE seen many top local rugby wingers rise to stardom. Some went on to secure lucrative contracts abroad like Marika Vunibaka and Rupeni Caucau. Then we have Fijians like Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu who worked wonders for the mighty All Blacks and now ply their trade in Europe.

But one man, who may not have raked in as many pounds or dollars or got as many plaudits, still stands out like a beacon.

I take you down memory lane in remembering the late Senivalati Laulau and Fiji rugby's Class of '83.

Aussies fall

Nadi flyer Laulau was the chief tormentor as Australian heavyweights Sydney and Queensland were both ripped apart by the flamboyant Fijians in Suva in April, 1983.

Laulau scored two tries against the Simon Poidevin-led Sydney as they were beaten 33-19 by skipper Esala Teleni and his men.

Then came Wallaby stand-off Michael Lynagh and Queensland.

They too were taken to the slaughter yard — Laulau scoring another two tries in a 48-24 win for Fiji.

The stage was set for the rest of season, especially then South Pacific Games in Apia, Western Samoa in September.

Hundred up

Fiji's first opponent was New Caledonia and they were torn to shreds 104-6 with Laulau touching down four times and Yasawa strongman Kaiava Salusalu bagging a hat-trick in an 18-try romp (a try back then was worth four points).

Fiji raked up two more centuries — over Tahiti (102-9) and Niue (120-0). Laulau scored five tries against Tahiti and chipped in with four against Niue.

The win over Niue being Fiji's biggest ever score and scoring margin victory to date.

Salusalu backed up Laulau with four tries against Niue and two against Tahiti.

Early end

The Solomons were also being taken to task by Fiji as the favourites had raked in close to 50 points by the break.

By the 60th minute with Fiji hitting the 70-point mark, the Solomon players, led by their skipper, approached stand-in Fiji captain Kameli Yacalevu to agree to end the game there and then.

They wanted an early finish to avoid another 100-plus humiliation like Niue, Tahiti and New Caledonia.

The Fijians felt for the opposition and after another five minutes of play, asked the referee to call the game off some 12 to 15 minutes early.

Fiji won that one 86-0 with Laulau scoring six tries with Lautoka centre Samu Yalayala touching down four times and Salusalu twice.

Big guns

It was left to Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to fight it out for the gold medal.

Laulau was on song again with two tries as the Tongans were ousted 38-10 by Fiji.

Salusalu and Acura Niuqila, who later represented Australia in sevens, were the other try scorers.

Fiji and Samoa then lined up for the gold medal play-off and again that man — Laulau — stole the show.

He scored a hat-trick of tries as Samoa was edged 18-10 to give former police commissioner Teleni the chance to collect the gold medals on behalf of his victorious gladiators.

Strike rate

At the SPG, Laulau hauled in 24 tries from six matches. Add to that his touchdowns against powerful Sydney and Queensland — that's 28 tries from eight matches, although, I am not sure how many of the SPG showdowns, besides Tonga and Samoa, can be labelled as Test matches.

How's that for a winger's strike rate?

Salusalu was another player who scored in every SPG game, totalling 13 tries from six outings.

Fullback Severo Koroduadua kicked himself into the record books as well.

Against Niue he booted over 18 conversions for 36 points.

Altogether from the five games he featured in, the Serua native kicked 114 points, through penalties and conversions, and scored two tries for 222 points.

Ilai Musunamasi played fullback against the Solomons.

Other stars

The 1983 Fiji team, coached by the late Inoke Tabualevu, had many of the country's finest ruggers.

In the backs were then 27-year-old bank officer Laulau, Koroduadua, Salusalu, Yalayala, big kicking Elia Rokowailoa, the late Dominiko Manaseitava, Rewa's Yacalevu and Niuqila with halfbacks Paulo Nawalu and Dusilele Bola.

In the forwards were Naitasiri's Nasoni Uluvula, 1987 World Cup skipper Koli Rakoroi, the late Iokimi Finau, 1980 Hong Kong Sevens hero Sela Gutugutuwai, Nadi giant Vilikesa Vatuwaliwali, Suva lock Lewis Politini, Kadavu prop Tuimasi Tubananitu, Nadroga's Sunia Nadruku, Suva's Peter Kean, Epeli Rakai, Sialeni Vuetaki, Sairusi Naituku and tough hillmen Rusiate Namoro.

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