Bati International to make triumphant return

By Mitch Jennings - Illawarra Mercury

It takes just five minutes with Illawarra back-rower Peni Botiki to understand how important the Country Firsts end-of-season tour really is.

With destinations like South Africa, Hawaii and Fiji in recent years, the tour’s viewed as a junket by some, a nice end of season trip by others, but for players like Botiki it means the world. 

Raised in the village of Tavakubu in Lautoka on Fiji’s western coast, this year’s tour will be an emotional home-coming for the 26-year-old who left home five years ago to pursue a life-changing rugby league journey. 

‘‘It’s one of those things that when I talk about it I still get really emotional,’’ Botiki said.

‘‘My family don’t have much. My dad’s the only bread-winner in the family and has worked hard to feed me and my three brothers and sister.

‘‘To leave home and move here and play rugby league has definitely been a life-changing experience.’’

It’s an experience that began with a Fiji Residents tour in 2010 and has since netted an Illawarra Coal League premiership with Collegians in 2013 and Test selection for his home country for the 2013 World Cup where he made three appearances. 

He’s spent the past two seasons with Wests and was close to Illawarra’s best player in their charge to a third straight Country Championships title in June earning Country selection alongside seven of his Wollongong teammates.

With the team – who depart for Fiji on Sunday – to conduct coaching clinics as part of their week-long visit, Country selection brings with it the chance for a return to his home village.

‘‘We’ll be going there for a for a visit,’’ Botiki said.

‘‘It’s a rugby league-mad village and I’m excited to show the boys the old playground and where I started from as a kid.

‘‘I haven’t been home for over 12 months so I’m really excited to get back.’’

Two matches against the Fiji Bati will also provide the opportunity for Botiki to play in front of his family for the first time in more than five years. It promises to be an emotional experience.

‘‘That will be a big moment for me for sure,’’ Botiki said.

‘‘I was on Skype with the family last night and I can see the emotions there and how happy my mum is.

‘‘She used to be there every single weekend to watch me play footy but it’s been a while since she could do that. I’m really looking forward to them, especially mum, watching me play.”

The trip also means he will have to line-up against his home nation but, with family watching on, Botiki won’t be holding anything back.

‘‘I know they’ll be coming hard but I’m playing for Country and I’ll give my very best,’ he said.

‘‘I’ll be playing for Country like it was Fiji.”




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