EXPECT the birth of another rising star in this year's Fiji Bitter Nawaka 7s tournament which starts today.
The tournament, which is known as the breeding ground of some of Fiji's most fearless and talented rugby players, has been in existence for the past 27 years.
Nawaka players such as Manasa Qoro, Esala Labalaba, Savenaca Aria, Apenisa Naevo, Semisi Naevo, Aminiasi Nava, Apisai Nagata, Lalai Driu and the late Senivalati Laulau were nurtured at the tournament and went on to become rugby household names.
Former national flanker Manasa Qoro and robust centre Savenaca Aria rightly said the Nawaka 7s tournament shaped their rugby careers.
Qoro, remembered as the first forward in world rugby to score points from a field goal during the 1987 World Cup game against Italy, admitted his rise to fame started at the Nawaka 7s.
"I was only a village boy when I joined the village team for the Nawaka 7s in the 80s," the former Nadi and Fiji number 8 said.
"It was after this tournament that I made my debut for the Fiji 7s team before being selected to play at the 1987 World Cup where we became the first Fiji 15s team to reach the quarter-final.
"If it wasn't for the Nawaka 7s, I don't think I would have made it into the Fiji team."
Aria said the tournament not only groomed Nawaka players but produced stars from various teams in the country. And he believes a new rugby talent will be unearthed this weekend.
"The tournament is special to the people of Nawaka and most importantly to the players who started their rugby career there," said Aria.
"Over the years Nawaka villagers who were academically weak showcased their talent in this tournament and earned a living with rugby contracts.
"I am optimistic a new star will be born this weekend."
The two former national reps commended the support of Fiji Bitter and Paradise Beverages (Fiji) Ltd for sponsoring the event.
Sales & marketing and trade relations manager Joe Rodan said the company was grateful for the winning combination with the Nawaka Rugby Club.
The company gave $25,000 for this year's tournament.
"Fiji Bitter has been sponsoring the Nawaka Sevens for the past 27 years and one of our policies is for Fiji Bitter to support grassroots level rugby," he said.
"To expose untouched and hidden talented players and once exposed we might select them for the Fiji squad.
"Nawaka 7s gives an opportunity for players to showcase themselves and we know that there are a lot of young players out there who are knocking on the door of the Fiji team. Nawaka 7s sevens give them that opportunity.
"Fiji Bitter supports about 10 tournaments a year — its clubs we sponsor, not provinces or the national team.
"We are happy with sponsoring Nawaka sevens not because of identifying players but for the development of Nawaka itself.
"A lot of our players don't have it academically but they have talent in sports and we need a tournament like this to expose themselves.
"The players will use their god-given talents to make a living for themselves by playing overseas."
Tournament organiser Mataiasi Nabau says the standard was expected to better than last year's and thanked their major sponsor for their undying support.
He said the presence of national Vodafone 7s mentor Ben Ryan would inspire players to come out of their shells to be considered for national duties.