Lote & Ratu: Relatively speaking

Photos: SPA Images

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They’re two of the most talked about names in Australian rugby right now, but currently find themselves at different heights on the ladder to success in professional sport.

Lote Tuqiri has already reached the peak of his profession, with 67 Wallaby tests and two Rugby World Cups to his name. He’s also represented the NSW Waratahs 76 times, and is the leading try scorer in the state’s Super Rugby history with 27. However, after missing out on selection for the last four Wallaby tests, all the talk at the moment is whether he can recapture his fiercely contested wing spot. The only way he can try to achieve that is by putting in week-in, week-out in the Toohey’s New Shute Shield for his club side West Harbour.

21-year-old Ratu Nasiganiyavi on the other hand, is slowly climbing back up again as one of the country’s hottest young prospects. The 196cm (6ft 5in) and 125kg giant broke into 1st grade in 2008 with Randwick, and having scored 13 tries in his first seven games, the hype soon followed with premature and unfair comparisons to All Black legend Jonah Lomu. But after a lengthy injury-induced sabbatical put the brakes on his speedy progress, he’s back doing the hard yards in club rugby, and hoping to get his own chance with the Waratahs in next season’s Super 14.

They also happen to be cousins.

Lote was born in Namatakula in Fiji, and his family moved over to Brisbane when he was just three-years-old. He also captained the Fijian national team at the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.

Ratu was born in Sigatoka, and also moved to Brisbane at a young age. He made his New South Wales debut on the Junior Waratahs’ development tour of Fiji in 2008, playing on a pitch that was less than 200 metres from his mother’s village.

Round 12 of the Shute Shield saw their two respective club sides face-off in a downpour at Coogee Oval, with the home team prevailing 36-15. After the game I was lucky enough to catch up with them both inside the newly refurbished Randwick rugby clubhouse, for an exclusive interview for clubrugby.com.au. I wanted to touch on their current situations but also wanted to get away from the obvious questions that have been asked in previous weeks by others, and was more interested in finding out about their relationship, their influences on each other, their Fijian background, and their thoughts on Pacific Island rugby. It proved to be an interesting chat…

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Most people know by now that you guys are cousins but was that the first time you’ve actually played against each other?

Lote Tuqiri: “Yeah, I think it is! He [Ratu] didn’t start the game but he came on with 20 minutes to go and I think I tackled him once. I was lucky, Timana [Tahu] got him early and then I just wrapped him up over the top!”

What were your thoughts on the game in general?

LT: “Wet man, wet! The Wicks controlled the ball very well and played a territory game and didn’t make a lot of mistakes, and we did the opposite really. They played all over us, we let them in our 22 and our territory and they took the chances when they got down there.”

Ratu Nasiganiyavi: “It was a really wet game and very slippery. We just kept it in their areas and got over the line a few times, and in the last 20 minutes you could see the fatigue in both teams and we kept going. The boys did it simple and just trucked it up.”

Tuqiri, Lote runs 300509D-3207.jpg

Tuqiri leads the charge for the Pirates against Souths – Photo: SPA Images

Lote, there’s obviously been a lot of talk lately about when you’re going to get that Wallaby jersey back. How important has the support of West Harbour as a club been in helping you to play your way back into Robbie Deans’ plans?

LT: “It probably comes more from myself really. I want to be playing footy and you wanna be playing with a good team and the Pirates are a good team. We’ve just got to nut out a few mistakes and we’ll be ok. We’ve probably just gotta win a bit more lineout ball as that may have cost us a few times at key moments, but we all made a lot of mistakes today. The club’s been great and we’ll just see how long it takes.”

There’s a bit of a misconception that rep players simply walk back into club footy and shine. But it’s not always that easy is it, because of the lack of training time with the team and the chance to build combinations etc?

LT: “Yeah, there is. You’ve gotta pick up plays and pick up calls and you’re on the backfoot straight away, especially when you don’t train with the boys and you just catch up with them on Saturday. It’s been tough but it’s still no excuse, you’ve just gotta come in and try and play some good footy.”

I’m interested to know what made you choose West Harbour as your club side when you first switched to union and came down to Sydney from Brisbane?

LT: “Well, I saw that there was a lot of Islander players there, and I guess that was a natural attraction. I also liked the way they played. I watched them before I came down and watched a few TV games and I thought ‘These guys are alright’, so we made contact and it went from there.”

And Ratu, how did you end up at Randwick?

RN: “I played a bit of Sevens over in Singapore and I came across ‘Jock’ [Randwick head coach Mark Giacheri]. Then I was back in Brissy and he told me to come down and have a run with the colts last year. I got called up to first grade for a trial game and I haven’t played colts since then.”

Nasiganiyavi, Ratu runs 080809D-5781.JPG

Nasiganiyavi leaves the Manly defence in his wake – Photo: SPA Images

You were both born in Fiji but grew up in Brisbane, but exactly how close were you guys as cousins growing up – did you spend time together or did you just see each other at family gatherings?

LT: “Pretty close. Ratu came away with us on holidays and a few different things. I couldn’t believe his growth from about Grade 9 or 10, he just shot up and he’s a bloody monster now! He towers over me and he’s a big boy. I didn’t think he’d be this big but I think that’s the Nadi blood!” (Nadi is the area in Fiji that Ratu hails from, where the menfolk are renowned for their size)

How aware were you of Lote’s success when you were growing up Ratu – did it make you want to follow in his footsteps?

RN: “Obviously I was a young bloke back in Brisbane when he started with the Broncos. We all played union but everyone would go out and watch him play at ANZ at the time. And ever since then, you know, being another Fijian coming up and obviously being related, you wanna follow and you wanna be something, and being at the same club (NSW Waratahs) really helps me as a player. Even though I haven’t played any Super 14 yet, I’ve learned a lot from the likes of Lote and Lachie Turner, so it’s a good experience.”

How important has Lote been for you in terms of dealing with the pressures involved in being called the ‘next big thing’, given that he’s already travelled that path and made it to the peak of his profession?

RN: “Mate, I don’t really count on being the ‘next big thing’ or what not, I just take advice and take it step by step. There’s always gonna be media and people that will diss you and put you down, but I think you just bide your time and learn as much as you can, and when the time does come, you’re set and you’re ready to roll.”

All being well, are you both looking forward to being a part of that Waratah backline next year?

LT: “Yeah, I hope so. Ratu’s making all the right noises and he’s got over his injuries from the last year. Hopefully he can stay fit and have a good club season, and then kick into a good pre-season with the Waratahs. Hopefully, we’ll both kick on there and make things happen, but the good thing about the Waratahs is there’s a lot of jostling for positions and for spots. That’s always good for keeping you on your toes, and I’m sure Ratu will be keeping a lot of blokes on their toes at the start of next year.”

Tuqiri_Nasiganiyavi_Waratahs

NSW Waratahs fans are hoping to see the cousins line-up together in Super Rugby 2010

One of the things that amazes me is the sheer number of Pacific Island heritage players going around in the Super 14, Shute Shield and the NRL – they are such a hotbed of rugby talent for both codes. You guys both hail from Fiji originally and have made the move here with your families. Is the lure of professional sport in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, and the quality of life that can come with it, something that will that always draw people from the islands?

LT: “I think it’s something that’s always going to happen. I guess for families living over there, coming to Australia or New Zealand is wanting a better way of life, and probably more so for your kids, and I guess that’s what our parents did. They wanted something better for us and they sacrificed a lot, and that’s probably why you see us here now.

“It’ll always be an attraction because the way the world’s going now, it’s driven by money really isn’t it? The islands don’t have a lot, and especially when managers of hotels and different workers are getting $3 an hour and things like that – it just doesn’t equate to living in Australia. It’s somewhere to go for more opportunity, and I guess that’ll keep happening with the size of the economies and everything else.”

RN: “Obviously as well, the more Fijians that we can get to play at the top level in Australia and New Zealand, the more it gives others a chance to think ‘It’s not as hard if you put your head to it and your mind to it, it’s achievable’.”

LT: “You see a lot of Fijian guys playing in the Northern hemisphere as well, and I guess the good thing about that is they can go back to Fiji and impart some of their training and different things that they’ve been doing, and the level of professionalism they’ve got from other parts of the world. You only have to see how Fiji went at the Rugby World Cup in 2007 – they nearly knocked off South Africa in the Quarter-Final there. They’re only on the improve and if they can keep doing that and keep putting back into the local island rugby from all the nations, I think it will be a big plus.”

If you look at the quality of Islander-heritage players going around such as yourselves, Joe Rokocoko, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu etc, that represent other countries, it intrigues me as to just how good Fiji, Tonga or Samoa would be if they had all those guys to call on as well. If, and it’s a big if, but if they somehow managed to make it financially viable and sustainable for players to stay, could you ever see one of the Island nations winning a Rugby World Cup?

LT: “I’d love to see it, I’d love to, but it’s tough. They’ve gotta generate revenue to pay their players and go on tours and everything else, and I guess….yeah – who knows?!? It’s a tough one to answer because you just don’t know the in’s and out’s of what goes on at the higher levels.”

Finally guys, are there any other future Lote’s or Ratu’s coming through from the family ranks and if so, have you got them on a retainer for the Waratahs?!?

LT: “Yeah, there’s a few running around. We’ve got Ratu’s younger brother in Brisbane, Chris Nadolo. He’s going alright and I think he’ll play for the Queensland schoolboys this year.”

RN: “Yeah, he’s using my mother’s name. He’s at Ipswich Grammar and he’s got another year there.”

Is he as big as you?

RN: “He’s about my height, he just hasn’t filled out yet. There’s actually a few boys running around up in Brissy. It’s just a matter of getting their head’s switched on and being in the right crowd. You know the thing with us Islanders, we get a little sniff when we think we’ve made it and sort of go off the rails, so hopefully we’ll see a lot of them come up and surpass us and do well. And they’re Fijian boys – at the moment there’s not many Fijians in the top squads around all the franchises, but there’s a lot of Tongans and Samoans.”

Team Tonga!

RN: “Yeah, exactly! So, it’d be good to get a few boys up there in the future, fingers crossed.”

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So there you have it, a great chat with two guys who are obviously passionate about their sport, their family and their origins. Lote was a complete professional throughout, arranging his time to suit me, organising Ratu, and insisting on finding the quietest spot available for our chat. He also spent several minutes after the interview with a group of kids who were sitting behind us eagerly awaiting a chance to meet one of their heroes. He spoke to every one, posed for photos, and even instigated an impromptu game of ‘indoor rugby’ between them.

Ratu impressed me with his mature responses and level-headed approach, and having read some stories about his perceived lack of discipline at times, maybe he’s learned quite a bit in his time away from the game, and is intent on coming back and doing all the right things to assist his progress. Let’s hope so because he sure has the talent and physical attributes to go all the way.

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First published by clubrugby.com.au on June 23rd, 2009

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