2008 RLWC Semi Final Australia and Fiji during national anthems
2008 RLWC Semi Final Australia and Fiji during national anthems

Photo: 2008 RLWC Semi Final Australia and Fiji during national anthems

The newly established Pacific Championships are set to get underway in October as part of the International Rugby League’s (IRL) new international calendar.

The decision by France earlier this year to back out as host of the 2025 Rugby League World Cup prompted the IRL to decide to revive a reworked iteration of men’s and women’s international games from 2023 through 2030.

France’s unexpected move also forced the IRL to push #RLWC2025 back to 2026, and in light of that decision, the governing body felt that reviving end-of-season internationals would be a much-needed shot in the arm for the game globally.

While the Pacific Championships are a new addition to the end-of-season schedule, Ashes tours to Australia by England men’s and women’s teams and Kangaroos and Kiwi tours of the UK will all be resumed in non-World Cup years.

The Pacific Championships will involve men’s and women’s teams from Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands. Tonga had already scheduled its first-ever end-of-season three-test tour of England so won’t be taking part, although its women’s team and a Tonga A men’s side will compete.

In the case of Fiji, at the start of this year the island nation’s governing body appointed Waisake Kativerata to the dual role of head coach of the men’s team the Bati and national director of coaching. Initially, his long-term task is to prepare the Bati for #RLWC2025, but with the advent of the Pacific Championships, his focus has shifted somewhat to preparing the Bati for the new end-of-season series.

However, coach Wise, as he’s known colloquially, says that’s not a problem.

“I was ready to coach,” he tells Rugby League Planet. “In the past, we’ve had mid-year tests in June, but they moved them to October, so as a coach, you’re always going to be ready to coach the players.

“We don’t have to change much of the stuff that we’ve done in the past. The only thing I’ve changed is moving from Australia to Fiji to focus more on grassroots development in 2023 and 2024. That includes a pathway academy and national competition in Fiji to the Silktails (Fijian club side that plays in the NSWRL Ron Massey Cup) and NRL levels.

“So, on the coaching side of it, we don’t have to change much. My main thing is to make sure we focus on what Fiji Bati can do and what we can improve on moving forward in the future.”

Coach Wise says there are a lot of good, young Fijian players coming through the NRL system and while he wants to trial them, Fiji isn’t looking just to make up the numbers in the Pacific Championships. He says his squad will be a mix of NRL and Fijian domestic players and they will be fighting for positions in the build-up to the next Rugby League World Cup in 2026.

“Everyone likes to win,” he says. “Every nation likes to win, and I’m one of them. We’ll be there to play for the prize.”

The coach says while rugby union has a traditional foothold in the island nation, since he has been back in Fiji he has noticed that school kids there know a lot about rugby league, are well up on teams like the Melbourne Storm and are very keen on the game but he thinks more needs to be done by the NRL to help educate young people about the 13-man code.

“A lot of people think rugby union is number one here, but no, rugby league can come here and be the same,” continues coach Wise.

“If the NRL brings some games to Fiji it would be big. Bring the Melbourne Storm to play the Bulldogs and from there they can engage. The NRL can see we’ve got some players in Fiji because when you look at it, you can see we’ve got players everywhere.

“We’re sending players to France, England and Japan. Australia is only three hours away and there are clubs that are folding in country towns there because they don’t have enough players, but we’ve got players running around here and if we educate them properly, they can go there and solve the problem.

“I think the NRL should bring games to Fiji because the grassroots level development that I’m doing now would benefit. People would start to swing across to rugby league because everyone loves the physical side of it. I think rugby league suits Fijian people.”

In the immediate future though, the coach is preparing for Fiji’s upcoming Pacific Championship games against the Cook Islands and PNG.

He says his expectations for his team are the same as they were during the World Cup in the UK last year, which is to focus on themselves.

“The most important thing is to keep the boys happy and get everything on our side set properly,” says coach Wise.

“If we can establish ourselves this year and set a good platform by winning both games, that will set us up for the next three years. We can’t go in thinking oh, let’s go and play football and see how far we go. We need to look at Samoa and Tonga and see what they’ve done. They have set their bars high.

“For me, as a young coach coming in, my first assignment is to make sure we focus on ourselves. The one thing we need to do is go in to compete. And if we compete hard, we can score points and win.”

The coach says he expects to name an initial squad of 24 for the Pacific Championships in the next week or so.

Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others. Brian has his own YouTube channel @brianlowe5567 where he posts his interviews for Rugby League Planet. Be sure to check it out and subscribe.