Koroibete fulfils a nation's dream

AJ Carr - Manchester


"It was a dream come true."


So said Fiji and Wests Tigers winger Marika Koroibete after making his Test debut for the Bati in a 32-14 defeat of Ireland.


It's a very long way from Koroibete's small village in Fiji to Manchester in the north of England.


It must have seemed a world away from the young wingman, watching the 2008 World Cup from Fiji and dreaming of playing with the likes of Aku Uate.


But here was the Wests Tigers winger, now one of the most exciting players in the NRL, running out for his Test debut for Fiji alongside Uate and legends of the game like Petero Civoniceva.


When Wests Tigers Digital grabbed Koroibete for this article after the game in the tunnel of the Spotland Stadium, the debutant shivered his answers through chattering teeth.


It's a long way from Fiji to Manchester. And a lot colder.


"I'm really proud to play for my country," said Koroibete.


"I still remember back in 2008, I was back in the village watching the boys play. Guys like Jarryd Hayne and some of the guys I'm now playing with today.


"It's good to play with the guys who have played in the World Cup before.


"It's been great playing for my country, in front of my family and trying to make them proud.


"I'm proud to be Fijian."


Pride is something all footballers talk about. You get the impression though that it's personal pride.


Pride in their performance, pride in their achievements. Pride in themselves.


When Koroibete talks of pride, there's a sense of something a little more selfless.


The softly spoken youngster says he plays his football to make his family proud and to make his country proud.


Koroibete is now one of the stars of the Fijian show.


If you consider how many young men just like Koroibete are back in Fiji watching the Wests Tigers man, the way he watched Uate and Hayne in 2008, it's easy to understand why he plays with his countrymen in mind.


This Fijian has come a long way.


Playing for a whole country seems like it would come with a lot of pressure. Koroibete says his family keep it simple for him.


"They encourage me," said Koroibete. "They just want me to do my best. They pray for me and tell me to believe in God.


"They want me to do them proud and do Fiji proud."


While Koroibete has found success in his short career, he still has much to learn about the art of Rugby League and wing play specifically.


Playing with one of the best wingers in the world in Aku Uate and training alongside elder statesmen of the NRL like Petero Civoniceva and Wes Naiqama, the young Koroibete is like a sponge, absorbing their knowledge and advice.


"I've been learning a lot from them, especially how to talk in defence," said Koroibete.


"They've helped me to calm down my nervousness.


"It's a bit different, because they can speak to me in Fijian. It's pretty much the same, but easier for me to understand.


"I feel more confident, especially talking in defence. I will definitely be more confident."


So much was expected by Wests Tigers fans of Koroibete in 2013, fuelled by a number of starring performances the year before and highlighted by a stunning four-try showing against Parramatta.


But as was the case with the Wests Tigers season in general, Koroibete's was marred by injury, including a sickening dislocated elbow against Penrith, a day which he described as the worst of his life.


That said, Koroibete still managed to play well and score tries. Scoring tries is what he does.


Wests Tigers fans love Koroibete for his brilliance in attack. They'll be delighted to know that after just two weeks with the Fijians he has developed a steely mindset and attitude to play for his team mates, and for the fans.


"I will try to never give up and keep going," said Koroibete.


"We will keep fighting hard for each other to make the fans and everyone proud.


"I think we have a good chance next year. It's the second year for Mick Potter. He's been helping us a lot.


"We've got a good team next year and we have had a chance now to get to know each others' game."


As the chat with Koroibete wraps up at Spotland Stadium and you usher the winger back to the warmth of the dressing room, reality dawns and the young man laughs and points out the obvious: "It's freezing, I'm really cold!"


It's a long way from Fiji.


And the exciting thing is, for Koroibete and Wests Tigers fans, there's still a really long way to go.


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