Rugby-bound: At 120kg, Wests Tigers’ Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro is bound to make an impact in rugby. Photo: James AlcockThe NSW Waratahs have recruited a 120 kilo winger from the Wests Tigers who, besides having the speed and power required to score Jonah Lomu-like tries, was blessed with the ice-cool nerves and safe hands needed to deliver a baby.
Imposing 23-year-old Fijian-born Taqele Naiyaravoro, who stands 190cm tall and was linked to Cronulla and Canberra before he accepted the Waratah’s offer, was recruited by the Wests Tigers from New Zealand two years ago where he played union after a Kiwi talent scout spotted him starring for his school team in Suva.
Naiyaravoro, who had terrorised his opponents in the NRL’s second-tier NSW Cup competition, faced fierce competition for a spot on the Wests Tigers wing behind Pat Richards, David Nofoaluma and Marika Koroibete. The club gave him an immediate release on Wednesday to try to break into the Super 15 – a challenge Naiyaravoro will start when he turns up to his first training session on Thursday.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I watch the rugby and the Waratahs are an exciting team that likes to run the ball … I would like to think I can add to their attack.
“It’s a great opportunity to play in the top tier and I will give it my best shot. I have to do my medical and will wait to see what the Waratahs want from there. I just can’t wait.”
Naiyaravoro, who was born on Yasawa Island – where the Brooke Shields movie Blue Lagoon was filmed in the late 1970s – planned to seek out former rugby league international and AFL convert, Israel Folau, for his insights.
“I haven’t spoken to Israel yet but I would like to have a chat because he’s done very well in rugby,” he said.
The flying Fijian proved he had ice water running through his veins 10 months ago when he was forced to deliver he and his wife Ethel’s daughter, Ella, on his own.
“The contractions were bad and I suddenly had to man up and deliver Ella,” he said with a laugh. “It was frightening but also phenomenal – the greatest thing I have ever done. To see her being born, and to be helping, was incredible … I had no alternative but to do what needed to be done.”
His manager Tyran Smith said the quietly spoken winger was “pumped” about signing with the Waratahs and was determined to make the most of what he called an incredible chance for Naiyaravoro to make the most of his ability and skills.
“He is going into this with a great attitude,” Smith said. “He sees it as a great opportunity, he’s grateful for it and his determination to succeed is very strong.”
There were high hopes for Naiyaravoro when he joined the Wests Tigers two years ago. The club’s strength and conditioning coach Luke Portese compared him to another NRL wrecking ball – but there was a twist. ”He’s like T-Rex [Canterbury’s Tony Williams] but he’s faster,” Portese said last year. ”He’s just so big and fast.”
However, the return of Richards from eight years in the English Super League and the emergence of Nofoaluma as a crowd-pleaser made it hard for Naiyaravoro and other wingers to break into the Wests Tigers top squad.
He attributed the blistering speed that should amaze Waratahs fans when he gets his chance to play to “nature” and “school”.
”I ran for the track team at school but I think it is just natural,” he said. ”I was sent to Suva from Yasawa to go to school but I found I loved playing rugby union and running the 100 and 4×100-metre relay.”
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