Fijian rugby league officials have sensationally snubbed the country’s living legend Petero Civoniceva from this week’s Pacific Test – because they believed he was “too busy”.
Already a laughing stock in international rugby league because of their refusal to pay the players who miraculously reached the semi-final of the World Cup late last year, the Fiji National Rugby League board’s latest blunder has not gone down well with some of the stars.
Skipper Kevin Naiqama said nobody had done more for the game back home than Civoniceva and it was “disrespectful” to exclude him from their week-long camp for the first time leading into their clash against Papua New Guinea.
Civoniceva, who is behind a push for a Fijian team to be included in the NSW Cup, learned of his dumping for the Pacific Test via social media.
Fairfax Media learned the explanation he received from a top-ranking Fijian official was he because “he was too busy with other commitments”.
It’s understood Civoniceva had to make contact with the FNRL to learn the news. Civoniceva could not be contacted for comment.
Naiqama, who led boycott threats after the players were left out of pocket following the Cup – it was the Rugby League International Federation who eventually settled the dispute, not the FNRL – was unimpressed with the latest drama.
“Petero is not only a legend in Fiji but in rugby league in general,” Naiqama said. “He’s accomplished so much in the game, and he’s also the nicest man you will ever meet.
“I’m devastated for him. He’s great to have around with his leadership and energy and all the forwards look up to him and pick his brain.
“He’s been trying to speak up for us boys and get some professionalism and accountability of the board.
“We’ve been told he won’t be a part of the camp or staff, which is the first time ever. He’s the one Fijian with the biggest resume you’d want there.
“He’s been disrespected. Queensland love having him around, the Broncos love having him around. My heart goes out to him.”
Matt Adamson has been appointed Fiji’s new coach, with Naiqama to lead players including Jarryd Hayne and Kane Evans.
Mick Potter stood down as head coach after the World Cup, and his recommendation that Civoniceva and Wes Naiqama, Kevin’s brother, succeed him was ignored.
It was only after Naiqama and Hayne met with RLIF boss Nigel Wood in Sydney a couple of months ago that a deal was reached to settle the World Cup debts, which included more than $125,000 in prizemoney.
The Fiji National Rugby League are expected to repay the RLIF.
Naiqama and the Fijian players were refusing to run out for their country until the money was paid.
Despite the bad blood between players and officials, Naiqama said he could not wait to enter camp in Parramatta with his teammates.
Naiqama’s tears during the pre-match anthem won over plenty of neutral league fans during the Cup.
Fiji will play the Kumuls while Tonga and Samoa lock horns in a double-header that is expected to again sell-out Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Saturday.
“It will be great to get back around the boys,” Naiqama said before he lines up for the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown on Sunday afternoon against the Raiders Canberra.
Adamson is believed to have reached out to Civoniceva to join the players in camp, but the former Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos great is expected to politely decline.
Civoniceva has devoted plenty of time trying to secure a major backer for a Fijian NSW Cup bid, which is unlikely to happen until 2020 at the earliest.