Fiji twins receive ultimate wrap
Retired Brisbane Broncos legend Petero Civoniceva believes nib Newcastle Knights forwards Daniel and Jacob Saifiti are the type of players Fiji can build their side around for the next decade.
The former Fijian and Australian representative is in camp with the Fiji Bati and the Saifiti brothers this week to help the side prepare for their upcoming clash with Tonga on Saturday and has been keeping a close eye on the pair's development at the Knights.
With only one win on the board in 2017 at club level, Civoniceva admitted he was in awe of the level of maturity the 21-year-old forwards have displayed since meeting the pair two years ago.
"Thrown into what's been a tough situation at Newcastle, as young forwards leading that side around the park I think they're doing an amazing job and it's a great reward for them to get that opportunity to represent their heritage again," Civoniceva told NRL.com.
"Obviously I've got a long history of playing for the Kangaroos but there was just something very special about playing for Fiji and its nice now that I can be part of getting these boys ready to play.
"I know it means a lot to them both, and every week has been a battle for them but they're still upbeat and are handling everything well. I'm blown away by their maturity and being able to hold it all together, they've got huge futures in the game.
"We're lucky in that we have quite a number of young forwards coming through but in saying that it's important when they put their hand up to put on the Fiji Bati jersey that they ensure we get more opportunities to play these big games by producing good performances."
In a common trend in the international arena, Saifiti brothers made their debuts for Fiji prior to earning a regular first grade spot in Nathan Brown's line-up for Newcastle and Jacob credits their Bati experience back in 2015 as a launching pad into professional rugby league.
"Because we hadn't played first grade yet [but played for Fiji] that was our biggest game so the whole week was a buzz," Jacob told NRL.com.
"The week has been great, but in context of two years ago and experiencing the international stage for the first time, nothing will beat that. It really helped us both springboard into our careers at the Knights and now again for Fiji.
"We're learning more about our culture and with Petero [Civoniceva] here in the setup, we've been picking his brain constantly and hopefully like Daniel's game last year [against PNG] it really helped him kick on his year so hopefully we play well on Saturday and can take that form back to Newcastle."
Daniel believes the clash with a strong set of Tongan forwards will hold him in good stead for the remainder of the season and can help cement a spot in the World Cup squad at the end of the NRL Telstra Premiership season.
"I started the year slow and got a bit of a rev up so have been pretty happy in the last few weeks, but we're disappointed with the results as a team [at the Knights]," he told NRL.com.
"While we want to be around the Newcastle boys and help turn things around, it's always enjoyable coming into these camps and getting around other NRL experienced players like Kane Evans and Api Koroisau and learning more."
Fiji played an intra-squad match with Samoa on Wednesday with both Saifiti brothers lining up against Knights teammates Sione Mata'utia and Peter Mata'utia to prepare for their clash with Tonga at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday.
"A few of us have played together already a fair bit so the combinations are there," Daniel said.
"We were a bit rusty at first but we haven't been dropping much ball so our overall preparation has been good this week."
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has named a strong line-up that includes ex-Kiwi international Manu Vatuvei and former State of Origin representatives Will Hopoate, Tony Williams and Daniel Tupou.
"Each player in their side has NRL experience so they're going to be tough. Felise Kaufusi at Melbourne is absolutely killing it and is extremely underrated on the edges," Jacob said.
"Tony Williams and Leilani Latu are big bodies… you can go on and on with their side in terms of quality so we will be in for a tough contest."
This article first appeared on NRL.com - written by Alicia Newton