Flying Fijian Eto Nabuli, now playing in the NRL for the St George Illawarra Dragons, is the latest rugby league fairytale.
It’s an unbelievable achievement for a man who overcame all the odds to roll the dice, travel to Australia and try his hand in the VB NSW Cup – and he will not be the last of his kind to rise to first grade.
Shane Selby – trainer of the Wyong Roos’ VB NSW Cup side – travelled to Fiji in August last year to donate his time and spread his love for the Greatest Game of All.
“Rugby league is definitely the big ticket in Fiji,” Selby said. “The more Fijians who play in Australia, the better. Nabuli worked in a resort over in Fiji two years ago and now he’s playing NRL footy.”
By now, you will know the famous story of how league legends Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler first encountered Nabuli while working as a hotel porter at a Fijian resort and decided to bring him to Australia to play rugby league in 2013. Stories like Nabuli’s are inspiring many other Fijians to follow in his footsteps.
“The general interest in rugby league in Fiji is picking up. They all know the Fijian players – Akuila Uate, Petero Civoniceva as well as Eloni Vunakece from Wyong as well,” Selby said.
“They all know their footy and watch their Marika Koroibete too.”
Roos player Vunakece played for Fiji in the 2013 World Cup and encouraged Selby to help grow the game in the country. After a family vacation to Fiji in 2013, Selby was motivated to go back.
“It just inspired me, the nature of the people, and I wanted to help them understand the game and just have some fun,” Selby said. “You hear about it all the time, the Fijian hospitality. When you walk around with a footy on the beach they just come up wanting to play footy and know what you do and where you’re from.”
In June 2014 the former forward funded his trip to Fiji, along with his family, to provide some footy gear that was donated by the Roos. He also held a day clinic in a remote village of central Fiji that was two-and-a-half hours away from the closest town. Selby helped coach different skills, techniques and introduce game strategies.
“My family and I have gone over to Fiji twice now and stayed at some really nice resorts for fishing and SCUBA trips. But for my family, with my six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son, all they talk about is how we went to the village and played footy.”
The clinic was such a resounding success, the locals held a gala day the following day which Selby attended. There’s now even an official team called the Coastline Roos – check them out on Facebook – that Wyong continue to support, raising funds for a team trip to Australia next year.
“It’s got to a point that early next year the Coastline Roos will come to Australia for two weeks with Wyong sponsoring their visas and spend two weeks staying in Wyong Roos-owned apartments on the Central Coast. They will play in the local Central Coast Nines tournament and also enter the Cabramatta Nines tournament while training alongside the Wyong Roos’ VB NSW Cup team during the pre-season.”
With live NRL matches broadcast into Fijian homes on a weekly basis, there’s no doubt rugby league’s fan base in the region is growing rapidly.
And Selby firmly believes Fiji can provide another batch of talented stars, with notable youngsters Eroni Tuwai and Jone Waqaliva playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters respectively.
“They (Fijians) are naturally gifted athletes. They’re fit, strong and fast, just wanting to learn. All they want to do is come to Australia and play rugby league. They just want a ticket out of there, as there isn’t a lot of money. They live really tough lives living on concrete floors in shacks with a little TV in the corner to watch as a family. They live a very tough existence over there. They love being active and playing sport. The more I can help with that, the better.”
Selby has every intention to keep sharing his love of the game and helping Fijians exceed in rugby league.
“If I can get back over there, I’d be there in a heartbeat,” he said.
“I just love the game and putting smiles on faces.”