OVERSEAS-based Vodafone Fiji Bati players were emotional as they departed Nadi yesterday for the Rugby League World Cup in UK.
With about two weeks of solid training, including a traditional team bonding exercise at Serua Island, most players struggled to contain their emotions while bidding farewell to loved ones, relatives and supporters at the Nadi International Airport.
The experience of encountering the warm Fijian hospitality and engaging in traditional activities while preparing for the tournament is one they will dearly miss for the next couple of weeks.
National Rugby League (NRL) legend and Bati skipper Petero Civoniceva, Aaron Groom, James Storer, Daryl Millard, Kevin and Wes Naiqama, the Sims brothers — Ashton, Korbin and Tariq — who all made a long return to Fiji to experience the traditional Fijian lifestyle, left with a heavy heart.
Most of them return to Australia at the end of the tournament.
Civoniceva, who had 45 caps for the Australian Kangaroos, said it was a humbling experience for highly-paid players used to the easy life in Australia to learn the simplicity of the Fijian way of life.
Most of the players had to fish and cook traditional dishes during their team-bonding exercise.
"Overall, I think our trip to Fiji was very emotional and a very humbling experience as well in the lead-up to the RLWC," he said.
"For many of these boys, coming home has been a good turn of events and some of them had some pretty new experiences.
"The whole week where we engaged in different activities such as fishing and learning how to cook traditional dishes was something we would not have experienced elsewhere and for that we are really grateful."
The former Australian Kangaroo said the memories would be a motivating factor in their RLWC campaign.
"I assure the public we will take all the memories we have had in the past week and use it as our strength because we have seen the level of pride and passion the community holds for the Vodafone Fiji Bati and it is really humbling.
"We will put on that jersey and do our best to make Fiji proud."
Fiji Bati head coach Rick Stone said the hospitality by the Fijian public was great.
"They had some new experiences and I think that is all what made the team bonding even stronger," the Newcastle Knights assistant coach said.
Fiji plays Ireland in its opening Group A match on October 28 at Spotland Stadium, Rochdale, before taking on the mighty Australians on November 2 and England on the 9th.