Nine players will make their Vodafone Fiji Bati debut at the 2023 Pacific Championships to be played from 14 October to 4 November at Football Stadium in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
The nine players are back row/lock Apisalome Saukuru and fullback Jahream Bula from Wests Tigers, lock Kitione Kautoga and centre Mesake Ravonu from Canterbury Bulldogs, back row Caleb Navale from the Manly Sea Eagles, prop Gordon Whippy from Ipswich Jets, hooker Noah Nailgoliva from Newcastle Knights and Kaiviti Silktials duo Sirilo Lokokuro and Watisoni Waqanisaravi.
Fiji Bati head coach Wise Kativerata while naming his team said this is a very young squad they are looking to build a strong team for the 2026 Rugby League World Cup.
“There are a lot of senior players missing out from the team. I’m looking at this year and next year. Next year is definitely going to be all local boys from the Vodafone Cup because this time, it’s been just six months since we started the work,” Kativerata said in the press conference.
“I have been getting my head to see what’s going around Fiji and sit with the former coach Joe Rabele trying to put up a system for the resident players so they are not far behind from what the NRL boys are doing.”
“We also tried to bridge the Silktails and FNRL as we look towards Fiji. We are there to play in the tournament and not take it as a holiday.”
While the NRL clubs could only release senior Fiji Bati players after 7 October, Kativerata said they have seen this as a blessing to build his young squad providing them enough game time at the Championship against an experienced team like PNG.
“In this tournament, the rules changed a little bit. We have to wait for 7 October for NRL clubs to release our players but they also need time to go back to their families after playing 26 rounds.”
“The preparation is going from the 7 and we are playing our first game on the 22 but we have got some time to work with this squad. I already spoke to the senior players before departing Australia. They got plans for their families because, after last year’s World Cup, they returned to their clubs.”
“This time around, we take this opportunity to breed these kids and 2026 is a long way from now on. We will start structuring them from now and what better way to build them in PNG.”
Melbourne Storm prop Tui Kamikamica will lead the side and Wests Tigers flyhalf Brandon Wakeham has been named the vice-Captain.
“When you look at Sunia Turuva and Tui Kamikamica, they play on winning culture. We are lucky enough to have some players in our squad who have already won the NRL grand final. Not most of them play NRL and win the Premiers. They will bring energy to the squad and we need winners in our squad anyway.”
“I had been keeping tabs with all the boys in the 20-member squad. Those who finished early in the NRL and NSWRL competitions were given time to rest before they returned to the pitch.”
Kativerata revealed that Canterbury Bulldogs staff Billy Billard Bulldogs had already begun training those Fiji Bati players who finished their competition earlier in July.
“Our preparation has been very well and the good thing is that I’ve got some coaching staff in NRL who have made my job easier. Those coaches have started training our NRL boys since Thursday in Sydney.”
“We are also going to put importance to our standing in the World ranking and the boys know the task for which we began our preparations.”
He added that Caleb Navale and Apisalome Saukuru will replace Sydney Roosters star Siua Wong, who will be representing Tonga at the Championship this year.
“I congratulate Siua Wong. He called me and I thanked him for his service to Fiji Bati. The door for him is always going to be open in Bati for the World Cup. We appreciate that he called and informed us that he would play for Tonga for his grandmother.”
Fiji Bati will play the Cook Islands on 22 October and face Papua New Guinea on 29 October at Port Moresby, PNG.
Fiji Bati: Waqa Blake, Jahream Bula, Kurt Donoghoe, Kitione Kautoga, Tui Kamikamica (C), Sirilo Lovokuro, Taane Milne, Noah Nailagoliva, Caleb Navale, Jason Qereqere, Mikaele Ravalawa, Mesake Ravonu Apisalome Saukuru, Maika Sivo, Peni Tagituimua, Sunia Turuva, King Vuniyawayawa, Brandon Wakeham, Watisoni Waqanisaravi, Gordon Whippy.