Times Sport caught up with the new Fiji Bati coach Rick Stone last Friday. The Newcastle Knights assistant coach shared some of his plans for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. He is optimistic Fiji can repeat its massive performance of the 2008 RLWC where they created history, reaching the semifinals for the first time. The challenge for Stone is whether he can match that powerful performance and improve on it or will the Bati bow out at the pool stages. Here is what he told sports reporter EMONI NARAWA.
TS: Congratulation Rick, for being appointed as the Fiji Bati head coach, how do you feel being given the opportunity to coach the Fiji Bati?
RS: Oh it was pretty humbling, you know obviously it is a national team and I know the Fiji people are really proud of their nation and the boys who play for their country are really proud to represent the nation. It is something that I will not take lightly and I have a lot of respect for it.
Have you ever coached a Fijian player?
RS: I was involved in the tour to Papua New Guinea at the end of last year and we played two games against the Kumuls in October and November last year and I was working with Joe (Rabele) who was our coach. I got to know the boys and had a little bit of an insight into what the Fijian people are like and I got to know about their game and probably little bit of their lifestyles as well.
TS: How do you find coaching Fijian players?
RS: It is terrific to coach them. First of all they are a terrific race to play our game. They got great physic to play our game and they got really good tools like speed, quickness, agility and bravery. Fijian players got a lot of bravery that's all good. A lot of them that are living and playing in Fiji need a little bit of education and that is why I have come across to give them that education and probably run the eye over the local players and see who has the potential to run over for the Rugby League World Cup in 2013.
TS: What is your plan or the foundation structure that you have drawn for the 2013 RLWC campaign?
RS: I think I would like to get another opportunity to do something like this in the camp where we basically give the players an NRL topic experience and preparation both in education and expertise and give them the opportunity to learn more of the game. And also for me to be able to see what the players got to offer, it is really important for me to get to know the players so I know them when we talk about them.
TS: What are some weaknesses that you see in Fijian players?
RS: Probably their football. The higher level they play, probably they will need to play a more structured game, not the messy football structure they play here in Fiji. There is a lot of spoonadity, they basically move the ball and have real man flair, which is a terrific part of a Fijian game. We never want to have that sort of stuff too much we need to have a decent balance. Kicking game, we need to improve, that, our decision making ability from our halves and hookers and fullbacks. There are couple of key areas that we need to be aware of in the future. We will also be looking for particular halves and hookers who can progress through to the world cup next year.
TS: Fijian players tend to go low while attacking the opposition line of defence whereas the NRL players stand tall while on attack. Are Fijian players doing the right thing ducking their head as they attack especially when going forward?
RS: I noticed that at training, they probably duck their head a little bit too much and they've got to stay a little bit taller even though they need a decent body position on contact, they definitely can help themselves with staying a bit taller and probably backing themselves a little more to punch through the line rather than ducking their head. They become a more easy target and an easier injury target when they duck their head around. Absolutely you don't have to duck your heads, stay tall and make sure your body position is of decent nature so you need to be leaning forward to be able to absorb the contact from the opposition.
TS: How many NRL players have shown interest to be part of the Bati makeup for next year's RLWC?
RS: We got a really good number of players playing in the NRL that can play for Fiji. We got the inspiration of two really big names like Petero Civoniceva and Lote Tuqiri, they probably are the two of the biggest stars. The other two that may play for Australia or may not are Akuila Uate and Jarryd Hayne, Wes Naiqama who plays for the Newcastle Knights and has been captain of the team before, his younger brother Kevin, and there is Jason Bukuya who is playing second at the Sharks (Cronulla Sharks) who is having an outstanding performance at the moment. There is probably 10 or so players that are in the system somewhere in the NRL or other clubs that can play for Fiji.
TS:What about the Sims brothers?
RS: Absolutely they are three terrific players, Tariq, Korbin and Ashton who has already played for Fiji. There are big talks for Tariq to play for New South Wales to make himself available for Australia so that might be tough. Kobin is a young player who is on his way up and hopefully he sees some NRL experience soon and he has shown his interest to play for Fiji so as his elder brother Ashton.
TS: What is the first thing that you want to work on as you build-up to the RLWC?
RS: I think our role here we need to improve our local competition. If we want to get a lot more local boys in the World Cup then that is the first and foremost thing we need to change. Hopefully in the future we can come back and do something similar and watch a bit of local footy and get out to some games and see where we can offer our help. I will be back during the Battle of the Bati where the NSW-based Fijians come over to play against the locals and that is something I am looking forward to and run my eyes over the competition.
TS: The secondary school rugby league competition. What is something that you think our young players need to improve on to further uplift their performances and become huge stars of the game?
RS: I think for the majority of Fijian players, what attracts us as NRL scouts is the Fijian players' athleticism, they got terrific athleticism, terrific balance, good speed, great agility and their toughness is never questioned. We got really good tools to make a quality NRL player, we see a lot of those in the youngsters but what they need is a bit of fine tuning in some of those small facets and some of the core skills of the game like catching, passing, tackling, kicking and all those things we need to work on.