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Celebration time

Eloni Vunakece
Saturday, December 02, 2017

What a time to celebrate our Fijian heritage! Drua going great strengths in their first season. The Wallaby backline, the Bati, Suli and the Fox from the storm, Bill, Maika and Dezzie winning the ISP, Semi and the bus as well as a host of other Fijian players in France. The Fiji Airways Flying Fijians just finished their and our fellow Pacific brothers Tonga and PNG flying as well.

The past 10 weeks have been a whirlwind to say the least. Sydney to Fiji to Brisbane to Townsville to Canberra to Wellington to Brisbane to Fiji. From the battle of the Bati to the semi-final loss not one week has been easy, but all have had an experience that all players and Fijians alike will cherish and hold close to their hearts.

Facing the haka — to be honest where I came from and how I got there l always wanted to, but never really thought how it would be possible for me to face off against one of the fiercest challenges in the world. The haka, against a star-studded Kiwis pack in a world cup final. Inside, I just kept saying to myself, how am I even here? To look along the line at the men I was beside and ready to go to war with it was a special moment. One this campaign was full of.

Beating NZ - euphoric was the experience. Pride in our effort and pride in our team that was the homeland. Suli Vunivalu rated it as even better than winning the NRL grand final and Pet said he had never felt anything like it. I had never been more nervous before a game, luckily a quick chat to Jarryd reminding me to just have fun and enjoy the moment calmed and settled my nerves. I could write about the week in Wellington all day... Life goes on...

Tough games are tough to recover from: Backing up from New Zealand was tough. That was a herculean effort from us and required every piece of information ever learned about the game for us to be any chance, let alone win. That win took it of us mentally and physically and it is hard to replicate that effort week in week out. I think we would have beaten England had we ended up on that side of the draw.

Myself and Bash (Ashton) have some years in age on all the front rowers we played against. Age is just a number!! (We both feel 18 hahaha) they couldn't handle the old war dogs. Losing Kane was tough for us and challenging for myself. I rely on him as a soundboard at times to help me through my troubles and when he went down I was scared and nervous about his big shoes to fill. I had fun doing it, but I was honestly scared as hell though knowing I had a huge job to do.

Hopefully through the team's endeavours we have developed a Bati brand. Passion dedication commitment driven family are the cornerstone of what we have done for the past three world cups. Hopefully we have put down the jersey in a way that the next person whoever he may be dons it with pride and looks to promote the jersey and leave it in a better place than when he received it. I think people wrote us off for this world cup thinking our "easier" (they weren't) pool matches would hinder us when it was time to face tougher opponents. We never once went into a game thinking it was going to be easy. We rolled our sleeves and pressed on through hard work. Hard work off the field led to great results on the field.

Defensively I though we have improved out of sight since the last world cup. Great stuff for things moving forward!

The future

Hopefully we get more mid and post season Tests to keep gelling as a team and showcasing more and more of Viti. Nigel Vagana spoke to us in Wellington of possible future Tests in New Zealand against New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa, and a fixture between Maori and Indigenous teams. We need to keep growing and strengthening ourselves looking to the future. A team that plays in Australia-based in Fiji in the second-tier competition would be ideal for developing players. Like Papua New Guinea has shown, being competitive in that competition would go a long long way to strengthening Fijian rugby league culture. The Battle of the Bati has shown me the desire is there in that it is close every time the residents win, but the fundamentals for the way the Australians play would beat a team easily. Within a year I think that gap would close given that teams exposure to the Australian system and we could better educate our players to both grow and utilise their own style and flair while adapting the ways in which the current best in the world plays.

I think the world underestimates the Pacific... or is it just awakening. Loved seeing Tongan's dedication and their fans were a whole new level!! I have still seen scores and scores of proud Tongans floating around Sydney. I love it!! We are a family, the Pacific nations. We go to war but we need to support one another. The rugby world will be scared of us if we can unify and create a body for ourselves.

The next generation. Lucky for us we have a good mix of old and young heads who have shared enough knowledge to pass the torch to our young guns. The future is bright and will only get brighter for our great country!! The Bati are a symbol of hope now. The protectors of the land and something for all people to aspire to.

What a team we have had off field too, former greats behind the scenes were instrumental in success. Mick Potter, Mick Reid Joe Rabele, Petero Civoneceva, Mesake Navugona, Johnny Jewiss our medical staff in Anthony Ingram Paul Wallace and Jin Lee, special mention also to Talatala Ilaitia Tagituimua. What a group of men to lead a group of men. Thanks for the memories brothers and leading us to enlightenment.

A huge thank you to all of sponsors who contributed to the cause.

A huge thank you must go out to every person who spared a thought, sent a message of support or just followed our tournament journey. You guys are a huge part of why we do what we do and we cannot thank you enough. Vinaka valevu from the whole Fiji Bati squad. In football there is nothing greater than pulling the Fijian jersey.

This world cup has been the best one yet and I can't wait to go around again with the brothers in another 4 years.

Thank you for joining myself and the team over the past 10 weeks and year as a whole. What a time we had!!

I hope to meet every Fijian person in the world to thank them for their support!!

Vinaka family!!

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