Lions slip to late Aussie surge

THE BARLA Lions lost their opening game of the Tri-Series in Fiji, against the Australian Affiliated States, 28-20 after having led 20-18 with only a few minutes remaining.

BARLA meet Fiji Bati Residents tomorrow (Friday) in the final game of the competition.

Full reports on both games will feature in Monday’s League Express.

Meanwhile BARLA tour PRO Dave Parkinson reflects: “The last few days have personally been my most rewarding of the entire tour.

“The group continues to be strong and morale is good in camp despite the heart-breaking loss to Australian Affiliated States.

“I want to speak about our two cultural visits which hit home just what fantastic people Fijians are. “Most of the squad have already commented to me that they have never been to a friendlier place and I would agree. The gap between the haves and have-nots is massive here, but that doesn’t seem to deter anyone or stop them being polite and friendly.

“In some ways we have been treated like rock stars since our arrival. Everyone wants to find out why these 30 English people are in town and we’ve even had staff from our hotel come and support us at the two games so far.

“Our first cultural visit was to the village of Saunaka, 20 minutes’ walk from the centre of Nadi.

I was thrilled to find a Rugby League link in the village. We were shown a grave and our guide told us it belonged to Apisai Toga, one of several Fijians that came over to England and played semi-professionally for Rochdale Hornets.

“Toga spent two seasons with Hornets and built a fearsome reputation that earned him a big move to Australia and St George Dragons.

“He was a highly respected second row who was sadly taken from us too soon in the early 1970s.

“Such was the impression that Rochdale made on him, the land around his original family home was renamed `Rochdale’ and his brothers’ house was dubbed `England’ and painted green.

“He is still revered in Saunaka due to his investment in local facilities. To this day the home of the local rugby team is the Apisai Toga Oval.

“With such a story breaking I did a separate press release and sent it out with Rochdale born Daily Mirror writer Gareth Walker picking it up and overnight (it would have been a day-time back home) the story seemed to be everywhere and Rochdale Hornets now want to firm up their links with the village and send rugby kit for the children.

“This is a fantastic story and I hope it sees a wonderful relationship develop as despite locals are saying that Rugby League is growing, union is still king here and some extra assistance for the sport is needed.

“I guess this is why we are here, to offer that and show them our standards.

“It was a humbling experience for us all and made us all think about how fortunate we are.

“Looking back on the Australian Affiliated States game, for almost seventy minutes we looked capable of winning, worked so hard and grafted, then a dropped bomb later by one of the most consistent players on tour and they go in front. Then they only went and grabbed another try near the end to make it a flattering score.

“I had been intending to provide Twitter updates and started a live Facebook video when I got to the ground, only to find as kick-off approached that my WiFi device had overheated and wouldn’t work!

“This was a shame and meant that I couldn’t keep people back home as up to date as I’d have liked. I did have a proud moment when the sound man at the stadium asked me to select a version of the national anthem for him to play out and I’m sure that I belted it out in my baritone voice (who am I trying to kid?)

“We then spent the evening being royally entertained by the villagers of Sabeto. There was food, dancing, singing and kava with members of the Bati, Affiliated States and our squad mingling with locals.

“After tending to the bumps and bruises with a relaxing day on Wednesday, the squad reconvened on Thursday morning with pilates, a pool session and early evening training session.

“While that was going on, Tour Manager Jimmy Aspinall, Tour Captain Jamie Fields and I ventured back to the village and an audience with the chief. We passed on details of the Rochdale link before making a video to give people back home an idea of the village.

“Now the boys have dusted themselves off and go into our final tour game knowing that a win against Fiji Bati Residents could still secure a Tri-series win after the Bati accounted for the Australian Affiliated States last Thursday.

“It’s an exciting prospect although at the time of writing we still await confirmation of how many players we can use in the test match.

“Gary Hewer and the rest of his coaching staff would like to utilise those available from the entire squad, but the Bati want a seventeen-man squad.

“One thing I can confirm is that the game will kick off at 5.00pm on Friday (4.00am UK) – a time that mirrors our last few training sessions.

!I will try and post again after the game, where we are hosting the Bati at our eatery base – Bounty Bar, who have been great to deal with and very adaptive to our needs.”