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The secret Silktails skipper carried for 10 days

If there’s one thing you need to know about Penioni Tagituimua it’s that he can keep a secret.

The Kaiviti Silktails hooker was pulled aside by coach Wes Naiqama 10 days before the Fijian team was scheduled to play its first Ron Massey Cup game and told he would be captain.

“I had to keep it to myself, which was really hard,” Tagituimua said.

“I couldn’t even tell my family for five or six days. So that was really hard too because I wasn’t really expecting it. I knew it would be a big surprise for them too.”

Tagituimua initially felt for his teammate, prop Apakuki Tavodi, who led the Silktails in their very first Ron Massey Cup game in March 2020 in Lautoka, when they beat the Windsor Wolves 40-16 at Churchill Park.  The season was then abandoned due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now, the players are looking forward to getting back out there against St Marys Saints on Saturday after the Silktails had the bye in the first round and a washout last weekend.

“I’ve been working hard at training, doing everything that’s expected of me, trying to tick all the boxes in pre-season and now,” Tagituimua said.

That focus on detail is one of the characteristics that leapt out at Naiqama, when making his choice.

“Peni is a leader in his own right,” Naiqama said. “He’s a person who leads with his actions. He doesn’t speak much but when he does the boys really listen.

“I like the way he prepares himself for training and for matches. He carries himself very well on and off the field, so in my mind he was the perfect person to lead this team.

“I’d also had a bit to do with him in the Bati squad.”

Making his debut for the national side, Fiji Bati, in the Test against Lebanon in June 2019 remains the highlight of Tagituimua’s career but being handed the reins as the Silktails skipper is also a dream.

“It’s really up there because I really had no idea they wanted me to be the captain of the team,” Tagituimua said.

“It’s our first year when you think about it because COVID stopped anything happening last year.

“To be named captain of the first Fiji team in an Australian competition for rugby league, I’m blessed.”

Tagituimua is not deterred by the weight of the Fiji nation on his shoulders – as well as the large Australian-based Fiji population – in wanting the Silktails to do well in Ron Massey Cup in 2021.

“For me personally, I believe I am ready for it and I believe the boys are ready for it,” he said.

“We’ve been together for a long time – working together side-by-side even back in Fiji as we played in the same competition there.”

The Kaiviti Silktails, again due to COVID restrictions, must play the entire seven-month Ron Massey season in Sydney.

“We’re all close friends, really close mates, and we’ve been a team for nearly 12 months now,” Tagituimua said.

We are ready for the expectation being placed on us.”

Like many of his teammates, Tagituimua grew up being more familiar with rugby union but he watched NRL games on television and found himself being drawn to the 13-a-side game.

“From when I was young, I just loved the intensity of league,” he said.

“In Fiji for the first term we could play rugby league and then rugby union in the second term.

“From there I started playing club rugby for the Nadera Panthers and came through the grades there from Under-16 to A grade.”

Fijian teams – both union and league – are known for their skilful, speedy players.

“We have some very fast boys in this side – very fast,” Tagituimua said.

“We do have some structure for our attack and defence but Wes doesn’t want us to go to far away from our natural style of play – the style of Fiji.”