The Top 10 Fijian-Born NRL Players of All Time
With each season that goes by, it seems as though more and more flying Fijians are making their way to Australian shores to light up the NRL with their blinding speed and typically flamboyant style of play. The recent success of the national team, the Bati, as well as the likely inclusion of a Fijian team in the NSW Cup in 2019, means that the number of Fijians in the NRL should only increase over the next few years.
While we may look to the future in anticipation of the next generation of Fijians to leave carnage in their wake as they score try after try after try, we should also revisit the past and acknowledge the contributions of those who paved the way for the current and future Fijian stars. So, let’s take a look back at 10 of the greatest Fijian imports to play in the NRL.
Note: this is a list of Fijian imports – not players of Fijian heritage. As such, despite their contributions to both the NRL and the Fijian national team, the likes of Jarryd Hayne, the Sims brothers and the Naiqama brothers were not eligible.
10. Viliame Kikau
12 NRL games for Penrith, 7 tests for Fiji
It may seem strange to include a player with such little top-flight experience, but Villiame Kikau is the real deal and, at just 22 years of age, he has a lot of improvement in him yet. He will be much higher on this list by the time his career is over.
Kikau grew up in Fiji playing rugby union as a centre. He was scouted by North Queensland in 2013 and joined their Holden Cup team in 2014 as a front rower. After two seasons for the Cowboys U20s team, in which he played 42 games and scored 32 tries, he packed up and left for Penrith. An ankle injury limited his opportunities in 2016, but in round two of 2017 he made his first-grade debut against the Wests Tigers. Kikau’s first involvement was a monstrous tackle on James Tedesco, followed by a barnstorming try just minutes later.
Kikau played another eight NRL games in 2017, but it was for Fiji in the World Cup where he really impressed. Roaming on the left edge, he was absolutely immense for the Bati in their historic quarterfinal victory over New Zealand and memorably earned his side the penalty that sent the score to 4-2 in Fiji’s favour.
This young man has a massive future and fans can look forward to seeing him flatten opponents in 2018 and beyond.
9. Sisa Waqa
95 games for Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, 5 Tests for Fiji
Sisa Waqa first appeared in the NRL playing for the Sydney Roosters in 2009. His final appearances were with the Canberra Raiders from 2015-2016, scoring 6 tries in 21 games. However, it was in between these stints, representing the Melbourne Storm, that he made his biggest impact, scoring 41 tries in 67 games between 2011 and 2014.
Over his years in the NRL, Waqa built up a reputation as one of the game’s elite finishers and experienced some great success. He played on the wing in Melbourne’s 2012 premiership triumph, and in their World Club Challenge victory over Leeds in 2013. He was also the Storm’s leading try-scorer in 2014 with 18 tries from 24 games. In the international arena, Waqa managed 5 tests for Fiji, including 4 matches in the 2013 World Cup.
He played Rugby Union for Grenoble in France’s Top 14 competition in 2016, before attempting a comeback with the Storm last year, which was put on hold by a skin infection and alleged gambling problems. At 31 years of age, a return to the NRL seems unlikely, although certainly not impossible.
8. Manoa Thompson
75 games for South Sydney, Western Suburbs and Auckland, 1 Test for Fiji
These days, Manoa Thompson is best known as the father of NRL superstar Jarryd Hayne, but in the early 90s he was carving out his own successful rugby league career. Like his son, Thompson played in the backs (although generally at wing or centre, rather than fullback) and was a destructive ball runner.
Thompson was born in Fiji and moved to Sydney when he was 11. He quickly developed a taste for rugby league and played for the Alexandria Rovers in the South Sydney junior competition. He joined the Rabbitohs in 1987, playing U21s and U23s before making his first grade debut in round 11 of 1989. He went on to play 61 games for South Sydney between 1989 and 1993, scoring 29 tries. In 1994, he played 7 games for Wests, before becoming part of the inaugural Auckland Warriors side in 1995, notching another 7 first grade games. He also played for Warrington and several French clubs before retiring in 2000.
While his career never reached the heights of that of his son, Thompson was somewhat of a pioneer of Fijian rugby league. His performances put his nation on the map at a time when it was hardly heard of in the rugby league world.
7. Marika Koroibete
74 Games for Wests Tigers and Melbourne, 7 tests for Fiji
At just 180cm and weighing 93kg, Marika Koroibete doesn’t seem built for speed. Yet, at one point, he considered pursuing a professional career in sprinting, having run 100 metres in 10.75 seconds! In addition to his blinding speed, Koroibete has the power and low centre of gravity to break tackles at will; attributes which made him one of the most exciting wingers in the NRL.
Koroibete started his career at the Wests Tigers, playing 16 games between 2012 and 2014. While he established himself as one of the game’s brightest talents at the Tigers, Koroibete didn’t nail down a first-grade spot until he relocated to Melbourne, where he flourished under the guidance of Craig Bellamy. He became a star for the Storm, crossing for 34 tries in his 58 appearances, including many memorable long-range efforts.
Koroibete also played seven matches for Fiji, including all five games of their impressive 2013 World Cup campaign, as well as the two subsequent Pacific Tests in 2014 and 2015.
Unfortunately for league fans, Marika signed with the Melbourne Rebels for the 2017 season. In the past year, he has capped off a remarkable rise in Rugby Union by cementing his spot on the Wallabies wing, and already has 4 international tries to his name from 8 games. At just 25 years of age, a rugby league comeback is certainly possible at some stage. Here’s hoping that it’s sooner rather than later!
6. Suliasi Vunivalu
50 Games for Melbourne, 6 Tests for Fiji
Suliasi Vunivalu knows how to find the try line; it’s as simple as that. A graceful runner of the ball, he boasts an incredible strike rate of 48 tries from 50 NRL games, as well as nine tries in his six Tests for Fiji. He has been the game’s leading try-scorer for two years running, setting an NRL record for most tries in a debut season (23), then etching a new mark for most tries by a player in his first two seasons (46) – a phenomenal achievement.
Vunivalu has also experienced great team success. He has already played in two NRL grand finals (losing in 2016 and winning in 2017) and starred in Melbourne’s 2018 World Club Challenge victory over Leeds. His Fiji Bati also made an unexpected semi-final appearance in the 2017 World Cup.
At just 22 years of age, it seems as though Vunivalu’s best years are still ahead of him. Hopefully he remains in rugby league to carve out a wonderful career. And who knows – perhaps he’ll be the one to finally topple the great Ken Irvine’s all-time try-scoring record?
5. Akuila Uate
187 NRL games for Newcastle and Manly, 14 Tests for Fiji
Akuila ‘The Thriller’ was born in Fiji and moved to Woy Woy as a 15 year old. He played junior football for the Woy Woy Roosters before the Newcastle Knights signed him in 2006. He worked his way through the grades, making his debut in 2008 and playing four games that year.
However, it was for Fiji in the 2008 World Cup that Uate really started to grab people’s attention. With a hat-trick performance against France, Uate helped his side to their first of three consecutive semi-finals against the Kangaroos. He was involved in both of Fiji’s subsequent World Cup campaigns in 2013 and 2017, as well as various Pacific Tests, amassing 13 tries over a 12-game career for Fiji.
At club level, Uate has been highly successful. From 2010-2012 he won three consecutive Dally M Winger of the Year awards with the Knights. He made several representative appearances for NSW during this period, until Origin II 2012 when he had a bad night under the high ball and was never selected again. Despite this, Uate kept playing well for Newcastle for a number of years, scoring a club record 110 tries in 161 games. In 2016, a lull in form saw him dropped to reserve grade, before he was signed by Manly where he remains today, as one of the club’s most exciting players.
4. Semi Radradra
94 NRL games for Parramatta, 4 Tests for Fiji
During his time in the NRL, Semi Radradra was the prototypical winger. Big, strong and unbelievably quick, he managed to score 82 tries in 94 games for the Parramatta Eels. Quite a remarkable record considering that his team only made the finals once during that time.
When Radradra came to Australia at age 20, he didn’t even know the rules of the rugby league. As he admitted to Yvonne Sampson in a Footy Show interview, “I catch the ball, I run, I score”. As the years went by, Radradra began to expand upon that relatively simple game plan by improving his defence, his skill under the high ball, and his general understanding of rugby league. This saw him become one of the elite wingers in the game, eventually earning a call-up to Mal Menginga’s Kangaroos for the 2016 Anzac Test.
Unfortunately, Radradra left the NRL at the end of 2017 to join French rugby powerhouse Toulon, seemingly as a means of escaping the Sydney limelight. He looks set to remain in France, having just signed a 2-year deal with Bordeaux commencing next season, but there is no doubt that many clubs will be queuing for his signature should he decide to return to the NRL.
3. Noa Nadruku
131 NRL games for Canberra and North QLD, 4 Tests for Fiji
The original Fijian Flyer, Noa Nadruku put Fiji on the rugby league map and paved the way for many others, including most on this list, to make their mark in the NRL.
Nadruku was first seen playing for Fiji at the now defunct World Sevens in 1993. After impressing at the Sevens he was invited to train with Canberra and signed with the club shortly after. Nadruku had a slow start, but quickly found form on the end of a red-hot Raiders backline and finished the 1993 season with a club record of 22 tries in just 20 games.
Nadruku became a genuine star on the left edge for the Raiders. He notched 73 tries across five seasons, played in the 1994 premiership-winning team, and was the ARL’s leading try-scorer in 1993 and ’96. Sadly, he was sacked by Canberra at the end of 1997 for an off-field incident and played the final two years of his career at North Queensland.
Nadruku’s legacy goes beyond the 90 tries he scored. He was named as one of the Raiders’ best 25 players for their 25th anniversary celebrations in 2007 and, in a testament to his impact and what he did for Fijian rugby league, the “Noa Nadruku Trophy” is awarded every year to the Australian Fijian Rugby League’s player of the year.
2. Lote Tuqiri
167 NRL games for Brisbane, Wests Tigers and Souths, 4 Tests for Fiji
A dual-international, Lote Tuqiri can lay claim to being one of the best cross-code rugby players in modern history – in the same category as Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Folau, Brad Thorn and Jason Robinson. While most code-hopping players clearly excel in one code more than the other, Tuqiri was genuinely elite in both forms of rugby and his record proves it.
Tuqiri won an NRL premiership in his first full season in first grade with the Broncos in 2000 and another in his final year with South Sydney in 2014. In between, he played in two Super Rugby deciders for the Waratahs, scored the Wallabies’ only try in their Rugby World Cup Final loss to England in 2003, starred in two winning State of Origin series for Queensland, and captained Fiji in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup. Most athletes could only dream of such a resume.
Along the way, Tuqiri scored dozens of tries for club, state and country: 90 NRL tries, five in State of Origin (including a memorable hat-trick), 10 in international rugby league (five each for Australia and Fiji), 29 in the Super Rugby competition and 30 for the Wallabies. All in all, a truly phenomenal record befitting a legend whose incredible career spanned over 16 years.
1. Petero Civoniceva
309 NRL Games for Brisbane and Penrith, 6 Tests for Fiji
As a big, strong, slow, uncompromising front-rower, Petero Civoniceva is the complete opposite of the stereotypical Fijian rugby league player, and yet he is arguably the best rugby league player the island nation has ever produced. Born in Suva, Civoniceva moved to Australia at a very young age, which meant that – unlike most of his Fijian brethren – he actually played rugby league growing up.
Civoniceva debuted for the Brisbane Broncos in 1998, playing off the bench in their grand final victory that year. He missed the 2000 grand final through injury, but played an important part in their season, and he was one of Brisbane’s best when they won again in 2006.
At representative level, Petero was a mainstay in the Queensland and Australian sides for more than a decade, playing 45 tests and 33 Origins – both records for a prop forward. After retiring from NRL at the end of 2012, he continued playing for Redcliffe in the Queensland Cup in a bid to stay fit for Fiji’s 2013 World Cup campaign in which he was captain of the side. He also made one last surprise appearance for the Bati in the 2014 Pacific Test against Samoa.
Civoniceva continues to give back to Fijian rugby league and is currently involved with getting Fiji’s NSW Cup bid over the line for the 2019 season. One of the game’s true gentlemen, he will be remembered as a legend of both Australian and Fijian rugby league.