17 Nov 2017

Fiji bullish after Tonga upset

11:34 am on 17 November 2017

The Kiwis' blood is in the water and the Fijians are circling.

Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama

Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama Photo: PHOTOSPORT

New Zealand take on Fiji in tomorrow night's Rugby League Cup quarter-final in Wellington, with the Bati hoping to replicate Tonga's efforts in upsetting the tournament co-hosts.

As RNZ sports reporter Joe Porter discovered, the Fijians are bullish, with Tonga's victory breathing life into the tier two nations.

Listen to the Morning Report audio version here.

The Fijian fans sung the rafters down to celebrate their team's latest world cup win, if they emulate Tonga and knock off the Kiwis tomorrow, the choir will be deafening. Fijian forward Junior Roqica said Tonga's upset has inspired his side, with the Bati's self belief at an all-time high.

Junior Roqica playing for Fiji.

Junior Roqica playing for Fiji. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"It's a great thing that our island brothers in Tonga did on the weekend, they put in a great performance.

"Going into the quarter-finals and semi-finals it's anyone's game. Tonga gave a whole lot of hope to the smaller nations, not just ourselves but Samoa and PNG as well.

"The belief within the squad has never been better, we know we have the ability to beat the Kiwis. In saying that, New Zealand will be favourites and will come out firing after what happened against Tonga."

A Fijian supporter watches the team train in Lower Hutt.

A Fijian supporter watches the team train in Lower Hutt. Photo: RNZ

Roqica said Tonga's fans in Hamilton last weekend were incredible and while he's not expecting quite as many Bati supporters in Wellington, he believes the Fijian fans are the world's best. A 1am landing time didn't stop a horde of fans from welcoming Fiji to Wellington and Roqica is hoping for more of the same tomorrow night.

"Just to see the turnout for us from the Fijian community was amazing. We're hoping to have some numbers come down on the weekend, make some noise and bring the kava."

Mikaele Ravalawa of Fiji sporting the team's 'pink dress', reserved as punishment for misdeeds in camp.

Mikaele Ravalawa of Fiji sporting the team's 'pink dress', reserved as punishment for misdeeds in camp. Photo: RNZ

Roquica believes there's a special bond between the Bati and that brotherhood is evident when the team stepped off the bus to training, revealing one player in a fetching pink dress. The cheers and chants were infectious, as was the Bati spirit. The laughter was joyous and the camaraderie uplifting.

Team manager and league legend Petero Civoniceva, a man who's played for Queensland, Australia and Fiji, said the Bati is unique to any squad he's been in.

"There's something very special about being part of this Fiji Bati team. My first experience was in 2013 playing in the Rugby League World Cup and I loved the experience after all those years of playing for Australia.

"Just the opportunity to represent your heritage it's something that means a lot to the players and their families."

Civoniceva believes top players choosing to play for their country of heritage could be the catalyst for a power shift in rugby league.

Fijian league team training in Lower Hutt.

Fijian league team training in Lower Hutt. Photo: RNZ

"I was blown away with that commitment, that pride, that passion that Tonga displayed and players wanting to step away from representing top-tier nations to go back and honour their heritage sends a powerful message and could be the start of something really big within rugby league.

He said it was a chance for many Fijian players to reconnect with a culture they've sorely missed.

"A lot of the boys growing up in Australia are very 'Australianised' in the way they think and they talk and to tap into that Fijian heritage is something special.

"For instance we have a seven o'clock devotion every morning. It's a prayer session and we also sing a few hymns, I don't know if you've heard the Fijian boys sing but they can hold a tune."

The Fijian hymn is one of the most beautiful sounds in sport and if the Bati win tomorrow night, you'll be able to hear it from Seatoun to Suva.

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