To the surprise, and delight of Fijian rugby fans, the Fijian Drua have won the 2018 Australian National Rugby Championship.
Just two years since joining the Australian National Rugby Championship (NRC) the Fijian Drua won their maiden title after overcoming the defending champions Queensland Country at home 36-26. With a vocal crowd behind them at Churchill Park, in Lautoka, the Drua men ran in five tries, to lift the BuildCorp NRC trophy in front of friends, family, and many loyal fans.
Fijian Drua wins 2018 Australian National Rugby Championship
The Fijian Drua team finished the round-robin competition as the Minor Premiers. Their only defeat of the season coming from their loss to Queensland (QLD) Country in Round 3. The men from the South Sea Islands corrected that result when defeating the more established Queensland team on home soil.
— Fiji Rugby Union (@fijirugby) October 27, 2018
Burly lock forward Albert Tuisue was the toast of the side with two tries. He led from the front with his big runs taking three to four defenders with him, along with his defensive skills that shut down the visitors.
Peni Naulago, big number eight Emosi Radrodro, and the talented Alivereti Veitokani were the other try scorers in the final game of a celebrated 2018 season. Chris Feauia-Sautia and Jordan Petaua, Ma’afu and Filipo Daugunu crossed the line for the Queenslanders, but it was too little, as the home side triumphed 36-26.
Man of the Match Frank Lomani and his halves partner; and NRC Rising star of the Year Alivereti Veitokani (see below image), laid the platform for the Fijian Drua win. They found holes in the defence more often than expected. It was a credit to the sides organizational ability, where they defended when needed and then created opportunities that led to points.
It was a professional display, from players who are more accustomed to playing in their villages – but the lessons learned over the last 12 months benefitted the Fijian Drua team, who outplayed the QLD team on the day.
Eight of the Drua side have been rewarded by Fiji head coach John McKee, with selection to the national side, who will head off for their November European Tour – playing Scotland, Uruguay and France.
Fijian Rugby the real winners after NRC victory
Queensland Country coach Rod Seib speaking to rugby.com.au said, “Momentum shifted throughout the match and our boys were in the contest for the full 80 minutes, but credit to the Fijians — they fed off their home crowd and played a great game.
“I’m really proud of the way our team has performed throughout the season. Today, they showed a lot of character to stay in the match until the very end.”
Rugby Australia high-performance general manager Ben Whitaker congratulated the Fijians on their victory. “Over the course of the BuildCorp NRC season, Fiji Drua played enterprising, exciting rugby that enthralled and entertained fans in Fiji, around Australia and across the world.
“We offer our commiserations to Queensland Country who fought hard today,” but the real winner will be Fiji Rugby, as the experience and consistent match play will see every member of the Fijian Drua side rise in confidence.
Head Coach Senirusi Seruvakula will be most proud of how the 23 players executed a gameplan. In a media release by Fiji Rugby, he said “there is only one team left to beat, and that is QLD Country. The boys know it’s going to be a tough encounter, they’ll have to put their bodies on the line and leave nothing in the tank on the weekend.”
When the players meet again to celebrate their 2018 NRC victory, all the squad members can be proud of how they went into the season, how they showed consistent form over the seven-match regular season. And especially of how this group played superb knockout rugby, to the highest standard. They walk away from the National Rugby Championship proud of their record, and proud of their nation.
And the nation is very, very proud of them.
2018 National Rugby Championship Final result:
Fijian Drua 36 – Tries: Tuisue (2), Radrodro, Naulago, Veitokani; Conversions: Waqatabu (4); Penalties: Veitokani
Queensland Country 26 – Tries: Feauai-Sautia, Petaia, Daugunu, Maafu; Cons: Stewart (3)
History made by Fijian Drua in 2018 NRC
This is a monumental achievement for Fijian Rugby to be able to compete against the best in Australia. It will lay the platform for a push to [possible] Super Rugby participation.
Fijian Rugby has really grown in the full game as before they focused more on their Sevens game. They have proven that with guts and will; and no matter the financial incentives, their players can compete with any team in the world.
The Fijian Drua victory has also opened doors for an additional Pacific side from either Samoa and Tonga to join the National Rugby Championship in the future – which will be a huge boost to Pacifica rugby, and World Rugby sponsored Pacific Nations Cup.
With eight players from the Drua side joining the national side on the Autumn Tour, it will be exciting to watch their progress. And it was an incredible atmosphere in Lautoka, as the ground was filled with locals. The game was thrilling, with fans faith in the team sealed, with the cheers and applause of the crowd after the final whistle.
That will be a memory that every Fijian Drua team member will cherish, even after their playing days have ended.
2018 BuildCorp NRC Accolades
Horan-Little Shield – Fijian Drua
Andy Purcell Cup (Queensland teams) – Brisbane City
Benn Robinson Bell (New South Wales teams) – NSW Country Eagles
Player of the Year – Quade Cooper (Brisbane City)
Rising Star – Alivereti Veitokani (Fijian Drua)
Top Tryscorer – Jordan Petaia (QLD Country) 10 tries
From the Last Word on Rugby team, we congratulate the Fijian Drua side for ‘defying the odds’ and opening door of opportunity, for more players and representative teams of Fijian and Pacifica Rugby.
This team took what little chance they had, and you have turned it into success. Vinaka.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images