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League world cup

Anendra Singh, Hastings, New Zealand
Wednesday, November 01, 2017

PATRIOTISM always has a place in sport but don't let it cloud your judgement.

On paper, the Fiji Bati have pedigree players and, after their opening match at the Rugby League World Cup, have shown they have the potential to make the playoffs.

However, the prudent will argue the Bati have yet to undergo litmus tests in a competition where some countries wouldn't have made the cut had it been more robust.

That is not to take the gloss off the resounding 58-12 victory over the United States but that result has to be put in perspective.

In the context of the cup, the Bati playing USA is akin to the Olympic champion Fiji sevens team playing Sri Lanka, so you can't read too much into it. That also goes for other teams, such as the PNG Kumuls, Tonga and the Kiwis, who posted yawning scores.

I had watched the Tri-nations scrimmage between Australia, Fiji and PNG in Suva earlier last month and even then it was blatantly obvious everyone was keeping their cards close to their chest though some fans here were painting a picture of doom and gloom. It won't be squeaky bum time until the playoffs.

Bati coach Mick Potter echoes similar sentiments in endorsing his troops have some work to do despite a team whose offensive systems resembled poetry in motion.

Dare I say it, the most glaring shortcoming was the ease with which the Yanks scored tries against Fiji as well as the one that the TMO ruled out after a foot had touched the sideline.

World champions in myriad codes wow fans with their razzle, dazzle on attack but they also invariably hang their hats on the cornerstone of defence.

The States, because of their relative infancy on the professional rugby league landscape, should be expected to conjure something spectacular to cross the tryline against Fiji. Even the fledging Brad Fittler-coached Lebanon rate higher than the Hawks.

The Bati's size and mobility are a given against minnows but that time and space to create havoc will dissipate when they come up against more formidable opponents.

Regrettably Wales and Italy will not provide that litmus test because, should the Bati uncharacteristically stumble against them, anything short of a win will prematurely expose Fiji's frailties and question their mission statement.

By all means Bati captain Kevin Naiqama and his men should think big because Fiji, as they have in rugby union, have the raw attributes to become a force, if not hatch into world champions just yet.

Tonga also are in the same boat at the world cup although Samoa were disappointing.

The trick, I suspect, is for the island nations to play smarter. Running on to the paddock to live up to the Western media hype of fierce tacklers and open play merchants have a propensity to detract from a concerted campaign.

Potter has his work cut out in impressing on his players the need to employ selfless tactics that will yield a smorgasbord of skills and, yet, not compromise a Bati brand built on religious fervour and Fijian flair.

Egos aside, there's always the danger of players who don't boast marquee status using the world cup platform to present their dossiers to eagle-eyed talent scouts at the expense of the collective.

The odd Bati was guilty of trying to sidestep one tackle too many as prolific Melbourne Storm tryscorer Suliasi Vunivalu was left shaking his head on the flanks at the national stadium during the Tri-nations scrimmage.

What is laudable is the willingness of Fiji fans to embrace a code that is a poorer cousin to rugby union, the country's official No 1 sport.

Sadly that is not always a given in countries such as New Zealand and Australia where the official code or prominent one jealously continues to hog the limelight from others with an equally myopic media.

While the pool is smaller in rugby league and enables the Bati to set ambitious goals to win the world cup, rugby union should use rugby league's ebbs and flows to fuel their crusade.

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