Pressure mounts on top Fiji NRL officials to stand down
Now that a Fiji team is on track to start competing in the New South Wales Cup in Australia next year, bid leader Petero Civoniceva says it may well be time for some new blood at NRL headquarters in Suva.
Former Fiji NRL (FNRL) chairman, the Reverend Dr Immanuel Reuben, went further by urging his successor, Filimoni Vodarogo, and the organisation's chief executive, Timoci Naleba, to accede to player demands and resign.
The celebrations that marked Fiji's third Rugby League World Cup semi-final appearance in a row last year have faded into the distance since the players, led by captain Kevin Naiqama, threatened to stand down from future internationals, unless outstanding payments are met.
They have also voiced their unhappiness about the competence of the FNRL, and have found a supporter in Dr Reuben.
"It is a very sad thing that has happened," Dr Reuben said.
"I think it must be mismanagement or not looking after the money properly.
"I believe that what is due to the players should be paid, because the Fiji NRL have sponsors and the money from the World Cup must have come to them.
"What's happened to the players is not fair."
The poor publicity comes at a bad time for rugby league in Fiji, as the team behind the bid to join the NSW Cup in Australia look to press on with their preparations for a start in 2019.
But the driving force, former NRL great Civoniceva, said he was more than confident of getting the financial backing needed after the FNRL finally agreed to endorse the plan.
"We've talked to a number of key sponsors, so once we have that all in place, we can definitely start getting everything organised, player identification, setting up our training facility, and getting prepared for pre-season 2019 around October-November this year," Civoniceva said.
Fast-growing game needs right leadership: Civoniceva
A team modelled on the highly successful Hunters in Papua New Guinea would be a huge lift for rugby league in Fiji, but if the game is to get maximum benefit, Civoniceva said the FNRL's forthcoming annual meeting was the perfect opportunity for change.
"Our senior players in the NRL are exposed to high standards in terms of how clubs are managed," Civoniceva said.
"The FNRL have shown they can run their local competitions, but the game in Fiji is growing at such a huge rate, you need the right personnel in place to drive that process, so with this AGM coming up, there is an opportunity there for fresh ideas, for new blood to represent the FNRL.
"I'm hoping due process will ensure that we do get the right personnel there to do the job."
A diplomatic response for the former Bati and Australian international, but Dr Reuben is blunt, suggesting that if senior players are unhappy, then it is time for the top FNRL officials to stand aside.
"If they're being called upon to resign, they should resign," Dr Reuben said.
"If they can't perform their duties well, what are they doing there? They should move on.
"If they need me, I can step in again as chairman, in the interests of the sport and the nation, and the people and the players."
And certainly matters need to be resolved soon, with the threat of a player boycott still hanging over Fiji's next international match, which is scheduled to be played in May.