Well known for its classic sunny weather and laid back lifestyle, Brisbane city is also known for being home to some of the most iconic Queensland sporting teams and identities in the country; Alan Border, John Eales, the Maroons, and Brisbane Broncos to name but a few. However, unbeknownst to many, Brisbane is also the home of a humble Pacific rugby community that has been a fertile breeding ground for producing the world’s best and brightest football talent.
The proof as they say, is in the pudding and the current crop of first class rugby players from this community makes for some absolutely staggering reading; Crusaders tackle shredder Nemani Nadolo, Brumbies and Wallabies bulldozer Tevita Kuridrani, Wallaroos livewire Iliseva Batibasaga, Western Force colossus Junior Rasolea, and blockbusting Queensland Reds duo Chris Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi all have one thing in common, they all hail from the amazing Brisbane Fijian rugby community and are just a few of the names playing in the top grade.
The value of local Pacific rugby community programs has long been a vital secret ingredient in assisting Pacific players coming through the ranks. Talent is supported, nurtured, and developed in familiar, comfortable but highly competitive environments, where players are ultimately able to go on to realize their full potential. Brisbane Fiji is arguably Queensland’s principle pacesetter in carrying out this valuable task.
The program’s success is not a once in a generation, flash in the pan occurrence either, limited to the amazing list of names mentioned above. The community has been a fierce assembly line of world class players for a number of decades.
Trying to find a reason for this unprecedented ability to provide talent, one has to start at the supreme genetics within the community, provided by a group of Fijian “forefathers” who moved and settled in Brisbane and subsequently formed the cornerstone of the Brisbane Fijian rugby community in the 70’s.
The special group of Fijians, many of whom were top line Fijian Internationals or would go onto play representative rugby upon migrating to Queensland, included names like George Barley, Moriti Babuta, Aeseli Batibasaga, Isimeli Batibasaga, Petero Civoniceva Snr, Ameri Gutugutwai, Sunia Nadruku, Peniasi Nasalo, Isei Nasiganiyavi, Samisoni Rabaka, Solomoni Rasolea Snr, Taito Rauluni, Epeli Turuva, Lote Tuqiri Snr, Tukula Tuqiri, Serupepeli Tuvula, Joe Qoro, Peni Volavola and Isoa Volavola.
These names formed a part of the significant gene pools that have acted as the launch pad for the many talented, future Brisbane Fijian rugby players that followed in behind them since. These genes would be nurtured and developed from generation to generation or used for inspiration for other Fijians from within the community to aspire to greatness.
A classic example of this amazing genetic pool is the case of Jacob Rauluni. First cousin of world renowned Fijian 7’s wizard Waisale Serevi, Jacob is also the son of Taito Rauluni, one of the many Rauluni brothers to earn Fijian international honours.
Jacob represented the Queensland Reds and then went onto proudly represent his beloved Fiji himself. Jacob’s brother Moses also followed the proud Rauluni tradition by going onto represent Fiji in three separate Rugby World Cups, the highlight when he captained Fiji to a famous upset win against Wales.
Remember, this is only one example of multiple possible examples. The amount of similar stories from this one community is absolutely mind boggling.
Taking this into consideration, putting the Brisbane Fijian community’s success solely down to genetics, would not only be one dimensional but also be doing a huge injustice to the very real role the community has played. In essence, it is all very well to have the physical gifts but you also have to have an environment for those gifts to blossom.
Fijian International and Crusaders Super XV phenomenon Nemani Nadolo did not only pay homage to the role his community played in his development, but also being able to play with and against players from other communities, as a valuable learning tool for his rugby both on and off the field, growing up in the Brisbane Fijian community.
“Growing up I had the likes of Lote Tuqiri, Elia Tuqiri and the Kefu boys that I looked up to in the Island community. Looking at how they conducted themselves on and especially off the field, was something I wanted to aspire to be.”
“Playing in the island comps growing up… it helped me gain mental toughness.”
Queensland Reds rising star Samu Kerevi also paid homage to the community he grew up in, as having a major part in his early development and mindset.
“Growing up with the talent in my community that was my age, older or playing top level rugby, particularly via 7’s and being exposed to that famous Fijian flair at an early age, you definitely learnt very quickly to get up to speed.”
With a sly chuckle, former Brisbane Bronco and NSW Waratah Elia Tuqiri fondly recounts;
“Those days when guys like myself, Lote (Tuqiri) and Semi Tadulala were in the top grade and we would return to the Brisbane Fijian community, let’s just say we did’nt hold back just because they were younger, just like it was for me when I was younger, it was sink or swim.”
Imagining impressionable, younger, fresh faced versions of Kerevi, Chris and Tevita Kuridrani, and Nemani Nadolo and others like them, testing their budding athletic gifts and skills against established players of the quality of guys like Lote Tuqiri, it is not that hard to understand why their transition, along with the countless others that have come out of the Brisbane Fijian community into the professional leagues has been so seamless for such an extended period of time.
Analyzing the value of this “school of hard knocks” method you perhaps see the beauty of how the Brisbane Fijian community has been able to continually produce high quality talent.
One generation sets the standard and then brings the next generation up to speed, where the apprentices eventually become the masters with the responsibility of ushering in the next wave of talent. A never ending cycle of rugby excellence passing from one generation to another.
These days the role of master is now in the keeping of guys like Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi and Nemani Nadolo who now have the important task of bringing through exciting emerging talent including the likes of Varesa Mataitini, Kirwan Sanday and Vuanimasei Rasolea.
Judging by their loyalty to the Brisbane Fijian community that responsibility will be carried out with the same amount of care when they were the ones on the receiving end of that tutelage.
And just like a well-oiled machine, the next Brisbane Fijian cycle begins.
And may it continue for many decades to come. Vinaka vaka levu Brisbane Fijian Rakavi for your contribution to world rugby.
By James Kite