When Filipo Daugunu first kicked a soccer ball in the middle of Vanua Levu, Fiji, you can bet he would not have thought in his wildest dreams of reaching greater heights, where he is today, playing in elite Australian rugby wearing the green and gold armour.
Someone once said that “on any given day, in any given village, somewhere in the remotest parts of Fiji, is a Fijian child sleeping on a floor waiting to be discovered”. And so begins the story of many Fijian players from those very remote locations across the country.
The story that unfolds is a story born from struggle, growing up with dreams and aspirations of coming abroad to a life of rugby, first and foremost with the intention of creating a better life for their families. One only needs to hear the story of former Wallabies Acura Niuqila, Qele Ratu, Ili Tabua, Lote Tuqiri, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete and so many more to empathise in the journey to greatness.
Legend status according to Fijians is wearing either the national colours, being a Wallaby or an All Black. Period.
I was there when the amazing King of Sevens, Waisale Serevi, once told a group of young people during a youth meeting in Fiji’s capital, Suva, how he walked for three hours just to get to the grounds for training while playing for the national team, as he had no bus-fare.
Upon his return if it rained heavily, he would sit at the bus stop in the suburb of Nabua waiting for a bus driver to let him on for free. You could almost hear a pin drop in the room as he told the awestruck group of young people, how he would position himself on the seat at the bus stop so that when the bus pulled into the bus bay, it would stop directly in his sight.
He would then signal to the driver quietly, and the bus driver would either give him a nod or a shake of the head. No training gear, socks or shorts that were either hand-me-downs or borrowed, but with a hopeful heart and a spirit full of dreams and aspirations.
This paints a picture of where Filipo Daugunu comes from. A small island in the Pacific that has produced some of the greatest rugby league and union players in the world. The life of Fijian rugby players is not complicated, they love to keep things simple. Showing them how to do things, not what to do, is key to their learning and development.
When this comes into alignment, like any other player on the field, life is sweet, all is well and even better if Fijian food is thrown in for good measure.
You can rest assured that what will be going through Daugunu’s mind when he enters Eden Park on Sunday donning one of the most vied jerseys in the world is simply immense humility and gratefulness. Put simply, he would be looking up to the skies and thankful for a lifetime opportunity, just like those who have come before him.
And every child with dreams and aspirations in Fiji will have their eyes glued to the television with pride and happiness. Not bad for a soccer-playing kid, who waited to be discovered and now his time has surely arrived.