Petero Civoniceva's dream of getting a Fiji side in NSW's Canterbury Cup is a step closer after the Australian and Fijian Governments identified rugby league as a key part of sports diplomacy.
Members of the Fijian High Commission were in Brisbane this week to meet with Federal Government representatives and the NRL to discuss ways to further strengthen Australia's relationship with their Pacific neighbours.
After representing Fiji in the 2014 World Cup, Civoniceva has been pushing for a Fijian team to run out in the Canterbury Cup.
"This whole concept came about after I finished playing in the NRL," Civoniceva said.
"I had a year back playing in Intrust Cup in Queensland for Redcliff which qualified me to play for Fiji in the World Cup.
"The idea was sparked after having heart-to-heart conversations with local players about the issues and struggles they had in terms being a rugby league player in Fiji. The main frustration was the limited pathways that were available to them."
Civoniceva has worked closely with NSW Rugby League to get this off the ground, in which he hopes a Fijian team playing in the Canterbury Cup will come to fruition in 2020.
"I thought of this idea around the time PNG Hunters had started. So I observed their model and how it worked and wanted to work out a way to mirror that model and make it fit with Fiji," Civoniceva said.
"Ideally it would be a professional opportunity for 30 players. We would have a training base, where the players will live and train as full-time athletes in the facility.
The main frustration was the limited pathways that were available to themPetero Cinoniceva on Fijian players
"It would be a huge moment for rugby league in Fiji and you would certainly see the interest of rugby league explode and go to a whole other level.
"It's going to be a great experience for the Sydney-based players as well - with the cultural exchange that will happen both on and off the field.”
The sports diplomacy event that Civoniceva attended with the Fijian and Australian Governments was held at Suncorp Stadium.
Along with talking about the importance of sport in bringing together two countries, the gathering recognised the work the NRL is doing in building this relationship with our Pacific neighbours.
NRL Head of Government and Community Relations Jaymes Boland-Rudder said there is plenty more in store moving forward.
"It's terrific recognition of the work that we're already doing in the Pacific," Boland-Rudder said.
"And there are a whole series of initiatives that build on our current Pacific Outreach program which is using rugby league to address social issues in the Pacific.
"Moving forward we’re are not only working closely with the Governments and NSWRL to get a Fijian team entered into the Canterbury Cup, but the NRL are also taking the Prime Ministers XIII game across to Fijian for the first time in October, and will host a pre-season trial game in Fiji in February of 2021."