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Daughter inspires Narawa to power on

Fijian flyer Emoni Narawa’s breakout performance for the Chiefs in Super Rugby Pacific this season is driven by the love and support of his family, in particular his 11-month-old daughter who inspires him to get better each day.

The 23-year-old, in his second season with the Chiefs and fourth in Super footy, is dedicating his craft to daughter, Milla, following a rocky start to life last year after an issue with her lungs was discovered, hampering her breathing.

“At two days old I was in Hamilton and got a call to go back to Rotorua because she was in ICU,” Narawa told stuff.co.nz, 11 months on.

Swiftly flown to Waikato Hospital’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit, it was there that he and partner Danielle spent three weeks, as rugby became rather secondary to this wild introduction to parenting.

“[Chiefs coach] Clayton [McMillan] was pretty good with that, giving me time off, he’s always big on family-first,” said Narawa, who sat out four games as he came to grips with what lay in store for his little girl.

“She was pretty much on oxygen 24/7 for four months… we had a machine at home for her, but whenever you wanted to go out we’d take a gas tank.”

“It was a tough old four months, but I was lucky my partner was pretty onto it… and to have her family [in Taupō].”

Narawa can gladly report Milla has bounced back strongly, now “nice and healthy, happy”.

“She’s real well now, she’s off the oxygen, and she’s full on, just started walking. She’s growing faster every month, keeping me busy. I’m loving being a father.”

And as much as Narawa always looks forward to heading home after training – splitting his year in Mt Maunganui and Hamilton, with team-mate and “chief babysitter” Alex Nankivell – to be with his daughter, she is also the very thing driving him out the door each day, now with a big purpose attached to his career.

“When you’ve got a little family, it’s my ‘why’ now. She’s the reason I’ll get out of bed and go to work every morning, try and get better.”

With things settling off the field, it’s no coincidence the 1.84m, 98kg winger has been producing his best footy.

He was a standout in last year’s NPC for Bay of Plenty, while after a hamstring injury ruled him out of the opening two rounds of the Super season, he was back to what McMillan – who coached Narawa at the Steamers for two years – labelled his “elusive best”, noting he had got in “phenomenal condition” over the summer.

That was in conjunction with a trip home to Fiji to see his parents – who are on the phone to Narawa after every game to tell him what he’s doing well and what to work on – and two brothers (his other brother is in Tauranga).

Born and raised in Suva, looking up to Fijian sevens legend William Ryder, it was a scholarship at Hamilton Boys’ High which had brought Narawa to New Zealand for his final year of school, in 2017.

Then just two weeks before he was set to head back, with his visa about to expire, came what turned out to be a life-changing “$1 contract” from James Porter at the Bay of Plenty academy.

“I didn’t know what he saw in me, actually, but it worked out well, everything’s kind of history now,” says Narawa, who played for the province’s under-19 side in 2018 and made his NPC debut later that year, while working installing heat pumps and air conditioning units.

“It was probably the best job during winter, but not during summer, holy, you just get fried up in the roof… you’re pretty much like in a sauna,” he remembers.

After getting his initial Super shot with the Blues, in 2020, Narawa, battling some injury issues, logged just seven games across two years, before McMillan reached out ahead of last season.

“He just gave me a call and pretty much said, ‘What are your thoughts on coming back home to the Chiefs region?’”

It was an easy decision, and after nine caps last year, he’s now most certainly re-paying the coach’s faith.

Having made no decision yet as to whether he’d want to represent his native nation or push for the All Blacks in future, Narawa still has a touch of home at the Chiefs in post-match kava festivities with fellow Fijians Pita Gus Sowakula and Peniasi Malimali.

“Donk [McMillan] is a big believer in connections like that, always happy to see the boys connect outside of footy.”

Reginald Chandar
Reginald Chandar
Head of News & Sports | news@fijilive.com

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