Mitieli Vulikijapani makes Fiji debut as Hull FC team-mate gets late World Cup call-up

Hull FC centre Mitieli Vulikijapani is focusing on a third season with the Black and Whites after his hopes of representing Fiji at the World Cup were dashed.

The 28-year-old ex-soldier and rugby union player, who officially swapped codes in April 2021 was called up into his country’s preliminary squad, with whom he trained after their arrival in the UK – and played in Friday’s warm-up clash with England.

But Vulikijapani isn’t in the player pool for the tournament, meaning the Bati, who will be based in Hull, will have no Hull FC representation, with hooker Joe Lovodua ruled out through injury.

Former South Sydney Rabbitohs second-team player Lovodua had been named in Fiji coach Joe Rabele’s initial 33-strong player pool early last month.

But a damaged knee ligament proved too problematic to overcome in time for the tournament, when the Bati will aim to make the last four for the fourth time in a row.

Hull’s former NRL prop Kane Evans, who has been a Fiji mainstay since the 2013 World Cup, is also absent due to a knee injury.

The Bati, who met England in a warm-up match on Friday and will train at the University of Hull, face holders Australia in their first group game at Headingley on Saturday.

Vulikijapani made 17 appearances during a disappointing 2022 campaign for Hull, who finished ninth in Super League and were knocked out of the Challenge Cup in the quarter-finals.

That prompted the exit of Brett Hodgson after two years at the helm, with ex-Hull KR chief Tony Smith now taking the reins.

Former Saracens and Harlequins union player Vulikijapani, known as Mitch, served in the British Army before being released from active service to pursue his Hull opportunity.

He impressed on trial and after being handed a deal, played twice for Championship side Bradford Bulls on loan as well as making six Super League outings for Hull in 2021.

His bright form this season was reflected by the August agreement of a contract extension through to the end of 2023.

Fellow Hull forward Ligi Sao has been added to the Samoa squad, replacing North Queensland Cowboys’ Luciano Leilua, who was stood down by the NRL for an off-field incident.

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