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Rugby partnership

Maciu Malo
Saturday, February 24, 2018

SEVENS rugby has fostered many interesting partnerships over the years.

But none could possible compare with the 32-year partnership between the Nawaka Rugby Club and Carlton Brewery Fiji Ltd - now known as Paradise Beverages.

Some have even suggested the union between the two could best be described as a "love affair" of sorts. This is what sevens rugby does —— it brings people and communities from different walks of life and backgrounds together.

In this case, it is the trust and understanding between a traditional village and a commercial entity that unifies the two and allows them to speak the same language through the abbreviated code. From their first meeting in 1987, the two entities formed a special bond that has bound them together until today.

As best described by Paradise Beverages head of sales and trade relations Joe Rodan —— their relationship is like a marriage.

Fiji Bitter sponsored the first Nawaka 7s in 1987 with a sum of $1000 and three cartons of beer.

Those were the days where players such as Manasa Qoro, Esala Labalaba, Savenaca Aria and Sainivalati Laulau guided the then Nawaka 7s team to victory at almost every local 7s tournament.

It was also the same era where local clubs such as Saunaka, Nabua, St John Marist, Hyatt Regency, Police and Army, alongside Nawaka, used to dominate the 7s game.

Back then, the Nabua team had players such as the Rauluni brothers (Meli, Vili and Vesi), Tomasi Cama and Pauliasi Tabulutu, while the Hyatt 7s side had the services of Etuate "Honda" Gusuivalu and brothers —— Noa Nadruku, Viliame Tani and Mesake Seavula.

St John Marist had rugby greats such as Paulo Nawalu and Aliposo Waqaliti and Saunaka had the services of former national playmaker Ilaitia Ravouvou.

Police boasted rugby giants such as towering Severo Koroduadua and Dominiko Manaseitava.

Fast forward 31 years and how time has changed.

If anything, the relationship between Nawaka 7s and Paradise Beverages has deepened —— the brewer of Fiji's favourite beverages now gave $30,000 cash and $6000 in kind —— which includes more than 30 cartons of beer. This level of partnership alone is testament of how their "love affair" has blossomed.

Rodan said the Nawaka 7s had grown in popularity and had stamped its mark as one of the most-anticipated 7s events in the local rugby season.

He said the tournament also played a vital role in the development of the 7s game in Fiji.

"I can still remember we gave $1000 and three cartons of beer during the first Nawaka 7s in 1987," said Rodan, a former athlete who has represented Fiji at the South Pacific Games, Commonwealth Games and even the Olympics from 1975 to 1991.

"$1000 was huge back in those days and I think only 20 teams took part in that first event.

"Not all teams were playing 7s unlike today where all the teams from all over the country are playing 7s. And since that first tournament we have continued to support the tournament which has now grown with popularity.

"Most importantly we continue to support Nawaka rugby because we have seen they have invested the money wisely and sensibly in the development of the Nawaka community. For us that is the purpose of our support."

Rodan said the tournament had helped more than 30 rugby players from Nawaka Village secure rugby contracts overseas while others had gone on to don the white jersey.

Former national 7s rep and Wallis and Futuna 7s head coach Sailosi Nawavu said the Nawaka 7s had a rich rugby 7s history.

He said he played for the Nawaka B team at the first event in 1987 while Manasa Qoro and the likes played for the number one team.

"The Nawaka rugby 7s tournament played a huge role in my rugby career," he shared.

"It is the very first tournament that kick-started my 7s career and through this event I developed a burning passion to wear the national 7s jumper."

The dream which took seed at the inaugural Nawaka 7s finally bore fruit for Nawavu

"It took me nearly six years of playing local 7s to finally secure a spot in the national sevens side.

"And I am happy to give back by offering my services to the younger generation."

Nawavu is head coach for the Nawaka 7s team this year.

In an earlier interview way back in 2014, two former Nawaka and national reps, Manasa Qoro and Savenaca Aria, said that the tournament contributed to them fulfilling their rugby dreams and amassing their rugby achievements.

Qoro, who has written his name in history books as the first forward in the world to score points from a field goal during the 1987 World Cup game against Italy, said his performance at the Nawaka 7s enabled him to secure a spot in the Fiji 15s team for the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

"If it wasn't for the Nawaka 7s, I don't think I would have made it into the Fiji team," said the former national number 8.

"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."

Former Fiji 15s hard running centre Aria said the tournament not only groomed Nawaka players but produced stars from various teams around the country.

"The tournament is special to the people of Nawaka and most importantly to the players who started their rugby career there —— wherever they came from —— the Nawaka 7s made it happen for many of them. Over the years Nawaka villagers who were academically weak showcased their talent in this tournament and earned a living from rugby —— securing rugby contracts overseas while other players were taken up by other teams."

Nawaka Rugby Club president Jioji Kinisi thanked the support of their main sponsor and also gave credit to their forefathers who initiated the 7s tournament..

"It shows the resilience of our people, the leadership that our forefathers and past tournament officials put in place.

"The new executives we can only do so much with the vision of our forefathers that have put this structure in place," he added.

Not many tournaments can boast the achievements and success of the Fiji Bitter Nawaka 7s —— one of Fiji's longest-running 7s events in the country.

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