After kicking things off with Australia yesterday, today’s edition of ‘Starting XVII’ focuses on Fiji.
The Fijians have reached the semi-finals for the past three tournaments but are yet to make the final, losing out to Australia each time.
They’re making strides forward, though, winning all three of their Autumn internationals against Lebanon, Samoa and Papua New Guinea in 2019.
The squad in those games wasn’t too dissimilar to what we’ve put together, but is this how they’ll line up at the World Cup?
Fullback – Kevin Naiqama
Naiqama sits at the back of what is a scarily impressive Fijian line-up. The St Helens man has bags of explosive pace, so expect plenty of bursts up the middle of the field when he combines with the halves.
Wingers – Ratu Naulago and Mikaele Ravalawa
Suliasi Vunivalu’s defection to rugby union is a huge blow to the Bati but they’ll still have several wide men to choose from. Ex-Army Private Naulago has stunned everyone with his natural try-scoring ability since breaking onto the scene with Hull last season, while St George flyer Ravalawa has demonstrated similar qualities on the opposite side.
Centres – Maika Sivo and Marcelo Montoya
Both of these could play on the wing but, given the quality on offer, may well line up in the centres. Sivo had a breakthrough year in the NRL for Parramatta last season, scoring 23 tries in 27 games and becoming known for his pace and awkward agility. While Montoya hasn’t been quite as prolific, he’s been solid for Canterbury since debuting in 2017 and will bring experience as he enters his second World Cup.
Halves – Brayden Wiliame and Brandon Wakeham
Usually a centre, former Catalan Dragon Wiliame isn’t likely to play a natural halves role. Instead, he’ll roam around the field and allow Wakeham to take charge. Giving both halfbacks that freedom is partly what led to the Fijians racking up wins over Lebanon, Samoa and PNG last Autumn, and allows them to play an exciting, free-flowing brand of rugby.
Props – Daniel Saifiti and Tui Kamikamica
Height and strength is the perfect way to describe this front row pair, with both standing at 6 foot 5 inches. The pair are strong runners and are both still yet to hit career-best form. Saifiti has been one of Newcastle’s top up-and-coming talents for some years now and was rewarded with a call-up to the New South Wales Origin side in 2019, while 25-year-old Kamikamica has recently established himself as one of Melbourne’s starting props. Parramatta prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard is another top option, however there’s a chance he could be included in the Australia squad instead.
Hooker – Api Koroisau
Livewire hooker Koroisau has arguably been one of the NRL’s most underrated players for some years now. He’s bounced around the competition, having sporadic stints with South Sydney and Penrith in 2014 and 2015, before coming into his own during four years with Manly. He’s quick out of the ruck and has excellent distribution, whilst also possessing top tackling technique. He moved back to the Panthers ahead of 2020 and was a standout player before the season was suspended.
Second Rowers – Viliame Kikau and Waqa Blake
In Kikau and Blake, Fiji have a back row full of athleticism and mobility. Since breaking onto the scene in 2017, Kikau has become one of the most devastating runners in the Southern Hemisphere, using his deceptive pace to his advantage. Blake, meanwhile, usually plies his trade as a centre but has the build to hold his own in the forwards. He too has plenty of pace and is no stranger to crossing the whitewash, scoring 37 tries in his 99 NRL games to date.
Loose Forward – Tariq Sims
Sims last represented Fiji at the 2013 World Cup, where he lined up alongside brothers Korbin and former Warrington and Toronto prop Ashton. Should he be left out of the New South Wales Origin picture in 2020, though, he could well choose to represent the Bati once again. He qualifies through his mother and, as a seasoned NRL player, would be a welcome addition to Brandon Costin’s squad.
Subs – Korbin Sims, Jacob Saifiti, Kane Evans and Taane Milne
It’s likely Fiji will go with a big bench, as well as offering an option to change up the back line. Saifiti, offers a similar punch as his twin brother Daniel, while Evans has been on the NRL scene for around seven years now, racking up over 100 appearances for Sydney and Parramatta. Sims is a versatile forward but plays with plenty of aggression wherever he slots in. Finally, Milne is a pacy, strong runner and, similar to Waqa Blake, can be utilised as a wide-running forward if needed.