It’s been a long time coming but the Kaiviti Silktails’ dream of playing in the Ron Massey Cup in Australia has moved one step closer after the players and staff were officially released from quarantine yesterday.
The Silktails made history last season after becoming the first team from Fiji to play in a NSWRL competition but they only managed one round before the competition was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Silktails CEO Stephen Driscoll recalled the panic coronavirus caused amongst locals before they received the devastating news that the competition had been cancelled. It was particularly tough to take after the Silktails began their season with an emphatic 40-16 win over Windsor Wolves in Lautoka.
“No one really knew what COVID was, so the place was chaotic,” Driscoll said.
“The first case (of COVID-19) where we were based was actually a photographer who photographed Wes Naiqama (Silktails Coach).
“We had a really big win the week before which everyone was super excited about, so we had to put that to the back of our mind.
“Once the word came in about suspending the competition, it was disappointing, but we didn’t waste any time once we knew what was happening.”
In a historic move for Fijian Rugby League, the Silktails will be based in Sydney for the next seven months with the side to play their home games at Mascot Stadium.
With several players leaving Fiji for the first time, Silktails staff had to ensure the transition was as seamless as possible.
“It’s normally an emotional scene when guys leave Fiji for the first time,” Driscoll said.
“That plus the excitement of what we’re going to be a part of made for emotional scenes at the airport.”
The side will be based at Kensington in Sydney’s east and have moved away from the traditional hotel model due to the length of their stay.
Food will be delivered to the players for them to cook themselves with Driscoll saying, “we wanted to make sure outside of training they’re living like normal footy players.”
To assist with the significant change of lifestyle, the Silktails have organised online devotion sessions twice a day to ensure player welfare is at the forefront.
“We’ve filled their schedules with devotion sessions, training and online courses to ensure that they can find a routine and help them settle” Driscoll said.
The significance of the players sacrifice isn’t lost on the organisation and they’ve ticked all the boxes to make things run smoothly.
Despite all the challenges the side have faced to date, the hype around the Silktails relocation is justified. After years of Rugby Union having a stranglehold on local talent, the tide is slowly turning in and the Silktails boast some of the best young talent in the country.
Players to watch in the current squad include Penioni Tagituamua, who is Fiji’s current back-up hooker behind Penrith Panthers star Api Korisau, while Vuate Karawalevu is a 195cm goalkicking fullback who has recently converted from Rugby Union.
Before switching to league, Karawalevu was named in the extended Fiji Rugby World Cup Squad and is widely considered the hottest prospect in the country.