Just as the Fiji Bati side held on against Italy A with some spirited resolve in defence in the last 10 minutes, their coach and Newcastle Knights assistant Rick Stone, says that he hopes to convince retired veteran prop Petero Civoniceva, to turn out for Fiji at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
I hope Petero will be involved with us for RLWC2013,â€ said Stone.
â€œHeâ€™s promised that heâ€™s keen to be involved in some capacity, whether itâ€™s playing or support staff, so weâ€™ll just cross our fingers and see what happens.â€
With some of the NRL stars out for both sides for varying reasons, the game was building nicely as Italy looked to assert themselves – only to see Fiji score two late tries, before holding on for a 22-18 win, due to strong defence.
Carlo Napolitano, the Italian coach, said that the game was not so much about getting the win, but looking at a host of young players who will have the chance to be in the Italian World Cup squad.
â€œI thought it was a great performance from both sides,â€ Napolitano said.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t about the result today â€“ it was about having a look at the (young) players who are going to be part of Italyâ€™s World Cup process. Weâ€™ve got 14 NRL lads that Iâ€™ve not called upon for this match, and Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll get stronger leading into the World Cup.â€
Fijian player Jone Wesele, who was pleased to be involved in such an entertaining win like that, said that the team is now looking forward to the World Cup.
â€œIt was such a close game and to come away with the win is a big bonus,â€ said Wesele.
â€œItâ€™s uplifting for the young players especially, beating Italy who are also going to RLWC2013. We expect Italy to play like that and create an upset at the World Cupâ€¦and weâ€™ll definitely be looking to create an upset too.â€
The Fijian side are no strangers to turning heads on the international stage, having made the semi-finals of the 2008 World Cup, a feat they are determined to emulate in 2013, despite a tough group with Australia, Englan
d and Ireland.
â€œWe would like to do well next year so we can prove it wasnâ€™t a fluke to reach the semi-final in 2008, so we need to either equal or better that,â€ said Peni Musunamasi, the Fijian National Rugby League Chairman.
â€œItâ€™s not the first time weâ€™ve been pooled with Australia at a World Cup â€“ this is actually the third time. I think we will forget about Australia and England and focus on our first game against Ireland. If we win that we are likely to reach the quarter finals, and we can use the games against Australia and England to prepare ourselves for whoever we are going to meet in the quarters.â€
With Stone visiting the Fiji twice to cast an eye over the junior development and young talent in the country, as he plans to build a strong squad leading up to the World Cup, he knows that the weather conditions in England may not help his players.
â€œItâ€™s a massive challenge for our guys,â€ Stone admits.
â€œTheyâ€™re not that good with the cold to begin with, and theyâ€™re not that good with staying away from home for too long either. But the more experience we have with our NRL and Super League players, hopefully the better off weâ€™ll be and weâ€™ll sprinkle that with a few Fiji and Australia-based players, and form ourselves a formidable squad.â€
An added boost for the Fijians, however, will be the likely inclusion of current NRL stars, Wes and Kevin Naiqama, Sisa Waqa, Marika Koroibete, Ashton Sims, and possibly Eels fullback, Jarryd Hayne.
Wes Naiqama, who recently signed with the Penrith Panthers, and is the Fijian captain who was rested against Italy, is hopeful that a good mix of youth and experience, will be just what the side needs.
â€œThereâ€™s still a lot of talent coming through in Fiji, and since the last World Cup alone, the game has grown dramatically over there,â€ Naiqama says.
â€œThereâ€™s me and a few other boys who have been there before, but there are a lot of young players coming through. There are obviously spots available for RLWC2013 and the boys know that, so theyâ€™re looking to put their best foot forward to get in the squad next year.â€