By STEVE MASCORDTHEY don’t give up easily in Fiji.
Even as Petero Civoniceva made his final State of Origin appearance at the end of his final season as a rugby league player, the Fiji National Rugby League was pressing on with plans for him to captain their World Cup side next season.
“We have been in touch with Petero,” Bati assistant coach Joe Dakuitoga tells Forty-20 magazine from Suva.
“He says he will either help us at the World Cup next year or play for us.
“From what we can tell, he is planning to play in the local league next year to stay fit so he can still captain us.”
Big news indeed following Queensland’s gripping 21-20 win over NSW on July 4 to seal a seventh consecutive State of Origin series win over New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium in a game dedicated to Civoniceva by his team-mates.
Now, good journalistic practice dictates that I check this scoop with the man himself, Petero Civonceva. So, dear reader, bear with me while I send the big man a text….
Where was I? Oh yeah, so, every year we read about all sorts of weird happenings in Papua New Guinea at Origin time. People unhappy with the result throwing their television sets off wharves, head injuries resulted from jumping into ceiling fans after tries.
Where other countries have holiday road tolls constantly updated over long weekends, PNG has Origin death tolls.
But what about Fiji? Although Bati stars Petero, Akuila Uate and Jarryd Hayne actually played in this year’s series (and there were no Kumuls), does this rugby union-mad country even care about Origin?
“Oh yes,” says Dakuitoga. “There are ads on the TV and everyone is looking for it.
“I would say it is bigger than Bleidisloe Cup (Australia v New Zealand rugby union). Everyone knows State Of Origin is on.
“I go for Queensland but not because of Petero. I was going for them before he started playing. Other people go for NSW. It is good that Akuila Uate and Jarryd Hayne play for them now but people have their teams anyway.
“Hopefully Australia won’t pick Hayne and Uate for the World Cup next year and they can play for us.”
Origin is on at 10pm in Fiji which gives people plenty of time to get home. It’s more of a family thing than the wild scenes we read about in places like Port Moresby, apparently.
“You drive along at that time of night and everyone is on their loungeroom, drinking kava, watching Origin,” says Dakuitoga.
“There is no-one on the streets, the streets are empty because everyone is watching it. It’s a very big thing.”
Joe was a happy man indeed on the fourth, his beloved Maroons sneaking home and Civoniceva getting the same triumphant farewell as Darren Lockyer 12 months previously.
“The big thing was sending Petero out a winner,” said Maroons captain Cameron Smith. “A lot was said about Locky’s game last year and obviously he was our captain and did some great things for our team.
“But I reckon you’ve got to talk about Petero in the same breath. He’s been magnificent. He plays in the toughest position on the field and every time, he turns up and he plays with a lot of courage and he gives his all every time.
“He’s been sort of like a dad to this side.”
Coach Mal Meninga then added: “I’m the grandfather, obviously!”
Smith continued: “He was one of the senior players who was part of the team when me and Johnathan (Thurston) joined, obviously. Ash Harrison, Nate Myles, we were just kids and he was one of the guys we watched on TV.
“He was our idol.”
OK, still waiting for the great man to respond to that text. What else? Oh, I did recently manage to pin Petero down on international eligibility, one of the hottest issues in the game today and one which affects him and those like him. The hardliners who say you’re eligible for where you’re born would have denied Petero every one of his 45 Test appearances for Australia.
“It’s where you play your first senior match after 16? I think we’ve just got to go with that because it’s probably at that age of 16 where you identify with where you want to be, where you want to play,”Civoniceva said.
“I guess I’m going to be typical of a lot of young South Pacific boys, islander boys. I was born in the Pacific Islands but I was only there for a few months. I was basically just brought up here. I identified early on with being Australian and wanting to play for Queensland. This is where the confusion is coming in – those guys who are brought up in their countries but come over at a later stage. I just think, straight away, the ARL Commission have to be on top of making sure that once players register who they want to align themselves with, what country or whether they’re eligible for Origin … that way we can stop that whole dilemma of players unsure of what they’re doing and this thing we’ve got at the moment with big Sam Kasiano.”
What was that? There goes the phone! I’ve got a response from Petero about our big story that he’s going to play semi-professionally for another year to stay fit for the 2013 World Cup.
What does that say? “Haha … tell him to get off the kava!!”
Filed for: FORTY20 MAGAZINE (August 2012 edition)