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Marika Koroibete used the Fijian war dance to motivate himself at the World Cup

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Roar Guru
7th August, 2020
11

The Australia-Fiji pool game at last year’s Rugby World Cup had a rather interesting twist.

Three of the Wallabies’ starters – Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi and Isi Naisarani – were all born and raised – at least partially – in Fiji. But on this day they went into battle against their country of birth as naturalised Aussies.

The trio faced their first challenge even before a whistle had been blown. The 23 Fijian players performed the ‘Cibi’ war dance moments before kick-off with the Wallabies watching on. It is a passionate and intense piece of theatre which lays down the gauntlet to their opposition.

One could only imagine what was going through the minds of Koroibete, Kerevi and Naisarani. I quizzed the former on this very unique experience last week.

“For me, growing up in Fiji then watching them doing those sorts of things in an international game at a World Cup, it was weird,” says Koroibete. “But it’s (also) something that motivated me a bit more before that game.”

It definitely showed, Marika. The Melbourne Rebels’ winger delivered a truly stunning performance in the Wallabies’ 37-21 triumph that day under the fluorescent lights of the Sapporo Dome.

Koroibete hit hard in defence, chased kicks like a leopard and was effective on the carry racking up an impressive 128 running metres.

About 40 of those came on a sideline dash in the 72nd minute resulting in the game-icing try. Koroibete’s brilliant all-round display earned him man of the match honours.

You would have understood if Koroibete felt a touch ambivalent that day. He was facing up to men from a land where he’d lived for the first 18-odd years of his life.

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Getting the build-up right was key. Koroibete’s approach was simply treating it like he would any other given Saturday.

“It was just another game,” he says. “I just wanted to prepare as well as I could and help the team go out there on the day and win. Everyone was prepared well and we came out with the win which is good.”

All three Fijian-born players turned in good performances. Kerevi also grabbed a five-pointer and Naisarani was his usual rock-solid self, but it was Koroibete who turned the most heads.

This happened game-in and game-out for the 28-year-old during that tournament. Koroibete’s first Rugby World Cup was the biggest event he had participated in so far in his footballing career. He is still starry-eyed when reflecting on representing Australia at the sport’s feature event.

“It was surreal,” he says. “It’s a really good experience for myself to play in Japan. They love their rugby over there. To get the opportunity last year it was something I won’t forget. ”

It capped a superb year all-round for him. The bustling back played in eight Tests, notching five tries. His performances in the gold jersey led to him capturing the prestigious John Eales Medal.

Marika Koroibete

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

That’s pretty good going for a guy in just his third season playing professional rugby union. Koroibete had six years of rugby league with the Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm before defecting to union in 2017. He admits that he initially found the transition difficult.

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“The first couple of years I was struggling a bit switching to 15s but I’ve adapted to the game now and the rules,” he says.

“The last couple of years I have been trying my best to get involved more and picking the right time to get involved and be more effective.”

He was able to mask those early struggles well. They say there is no substitute for speed, and Koroibete is blessed with an abundance of it. Once upon a time, he clocked a 10.75-second 100-metre sprint.

He uses his gas effectively in so many different ways. Burning his opposite number on the outside like he did in Sapporo is just one.

He also uses it to great effect chasing kicks. One of his signature plays happens during re-starts when he sprints full-pelt towards the likely receiver looking to deliver a bone-jolting shot. Koroibete is also a great worker, dashing hard off the ball to get himself into good positions around the field.

Power is another of his prominent attributes. Koroibete never seems to get dominated in the tackle. This off-sets his lack of a kicking game as his counter-attacking runs seldom lead to turnovers.

Koroibete is now a cemented Wallaby and arguably the form winger in the country through the first half of the Super Rugby Australia competition.

His Round 4 outing was a particularly special one. He scored a try and was man of the match in his 50th appearance for the Rebels when they bested the Waratahs in Sydney.

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That try, punctuated by a classic ‘sit-down’ fend on Tahs centre Alex Newsome, was Koroibete’s 19th for the Rebels. That now places him just two scores behind Tom English for second on the franchise’s all-time try-scoring list.

Just four more meat pies and Koroibete will become Super Rugby’s highest ever try-scorer with the first name Marika. Former Crusader Marika Vunibaka currently holds the lead with 22.

On a more serious note, Koroibete’s Rebels take on the Brumbies this Friday night in Round 6 of SRAU. Melbourne’s lone loss this season came at the hands of the Ponies on the opening weekend.

Koroibete knows all too well the threats that the Brumbies back-line poses behind a very solid forward pack.

“Tom Wright has been playing well and (Solomone) Kata was back (recently),” he says. “Tevita Kuridrani, he’s been playing well for them as well. There are some big bodies there (and) they’ve been with that combination for a while now.

“They’ve been using it (the ball) well from the back of their forwards moving forward on the set-piece.”

That’s when the forwards don’t keep it for themselves. All three of the Brumbies’ tries against Queensland last weekend were started and finished by a hooker from the five-metre lineout.

But the Brumbies are capable of hurting teams from anywhere. One week earlier, they scored twice in the opening ten minutes via long-range tries to Wright and Irae Simone. The Rebels will need to contain their opponents from all quadrants of the pitch.

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Leichhardt Oval will play host to the two sides, which will be back-to-back weeks for the Rebels who defeated the Force there last Friday. The Melburnians continue to base themselves north of their state border, having initially travelled to the nation’s capital and now Terrigal.

Melbourne Rebels's Marika Koroibete runs with the ball

(Photo by CHRISTIAAN KOTZE/AFP via Getty Images)

They have spent well over a month now on the road. Trivia nights, watching Master Chef and playing golf has helped to gel the team together according to Koroibete.

“We’ve got a really tight group and we’ve been connecting really well,” he says. “Being away has brought us much closer (and helped) everyone to get to know each other more.”

Koroibete has definitely preferred the second leg of their travels. He’s enjoying the seaside aspect and relative warmth of being based on the New South Wales central coast.

“Terrigal is way better than Canberra!” he says. “There’s nothing much to do there (in Canberra), just go to the mall.

“In Terrigal there’s good weather, we can walk around the beach which is good. Just hang around with Isi and Frank (Lomani) pretty much.”

And it’ll be the three Fijian-born lads united on the pitch this Friday. Lomani will get his first start in SRAU, with Koroibete and last week’s hero Naisarani also among the starters.

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Their task: knock off the undefeated Brumbies. As a man who is motivated by big challenges, expect Mr Koroibete to have a blinder.

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