Year in Review
When girls had to stop playing
Dad was giving me $2 for each try I scored. Two bucks was heaps back then. That was my encouragement, my incentive. It was never about beating the boys.
In my first year, I was the top try scorer and top tackler and the boys in the team treated me pretty well. I knew then and there that rugby league was definitely the sport for me, but it all had to stop the day I turned 11.
Those were the rules. Girls had to stop playing junior league. You just had to accept the outcome. Grin and bear it.
I had done little athletics and played basketball when I was younger but when we moved into high school most of my friends were playing hockey, so I joined in with them. I wasn’t of rep level standard, but I wasn’t horrible either. I had a long reach and a pretty powerful hit. And I liked defending.
Hockey was good at the time but, later on, I started playing league tag and pretty much fell back in love with rugby league. I wanted to follow my passion, like my brothers did, and see if I could make a go of it in league.
In 2010, I was asked an interesting question by a documentary maker, ‘Can we find an Aboriginal runner to challenge the African dominance in distance running?’
I was hooked on the idea. Indigenous Australians are the original distance runners. Could we reawaken that culture?
We travelled to central Australia to find the first group of young Indigenous men. The ambition was to train them to run in New York.
Our journey took us to remote communities in Arnhem Land, the Kimberley and the Central Desert. It was the first time I had truly been exposed to Indigenous Australia. It was confronting to see some of the problems that we face as a nation. I felt embarrassed.
I saw the social dysfunction and health problems. But the thing that upset me most was the lack of pride, self-respect and hope.
Without pride and hope you have nothing. And without self-worth, you’ll never make an effort to achieve anything in your life. You won’t push yourself to get off the smokes, go to school, get a job or be a good parent, because it’s all hard.
… it made me realise that we had the opportunity to drive real social change, which is far more important than finding Australia’s next elite runner.
Marta is one of the greatest players ever and I was marking her for the Matildas in our second game against Brazil when they were out here in September.
She took me out right at the start of the game, sat me on my backside, but I wasn’t backing off. I thought, ‘OK, yep, I’m in a game. If she wants to give it to me I’ll give it right back to her.’
I think the rest of the game we were pretty even. I gave her a few bumps and knocked her on the ground a few times. It was a good battle and a great experience for me.
I liked it because her testing me out physically showed she was thinking I was competition for her. If I was weak, I would’ve faded, but it was quite the opposite. I was, like, ‘Alright, let’s go, I’m up for this.’
It hits you all at once, man. Our Fiji Bati emblem reads ‘Noqu Kalou Noqu Vanua’, which means ‘My God My Land’.
I think about that. I think about my family, my friends, the players I’m doing this with.
Those thoughts flood my mind and it’s all over. The tears just flow.
To play for our country, our ancestors, the players who have worn this jersey before, it’s the best feeling you can have in football.
We have created something special here and I’m not the only one who’s crying. The other boys are, too.
I was back home in Australia and it was 3am when I got the call. It was years in the making and it felt amazing. The significance of being the first Aussie drafted in the NHL still hasn’t sunk in. At the end of the day I just think of myself as a guy that loves playing hockey.
It’s unbelievable, though, to think I’m contracted to the same team as Alex Ovechkin, who is one of the greatest NHL players of the era. All the older pros are great. They try to help the young guys because they all went through the same things.
I get chipped every now and then about being Aussie – all that good stuff. It doesn’t bother me. I just smile and laugh along. I tell my teammates we all grow up riding kangaroos and they believe me, which is pretty funny. I like to bring a bit of the Australian culture into the locker room as well. If it’s Australia Day, I’ll wear my Aussie singlet under my big winter jacket.