Playing second fiddle
By MITCHELL DALE
FIJIAN National Rugby League (FNRL) deputy chairman Peni Musunamasi has a dream.
Peni dreams that one day rugby league will be number one in Fiji, but at the moment he has to be content with playing second fiddle to rugby union.
The major problem facing the FNRL is, put simply, it has no money.
When the FNRL was established in 1992, it received money from the Australian Rugby League and was later flooded by funding during the Super League war.
But the well of funds from the '90s has now dried up, leaving the FNRL vulnerable to having its players scooped up by the cashed-up Fijian Rugby Union.
These days, the FNRL only survives on the volunteer work done by people like Peni, who on top of being the League deputy chairman, is also manager of the Fijian team, a referee and manager of champion club Nadera Panthers.
"It is a struggle, we definitely lack manpower," Peni said.
"During Super League, we were getting a couple of hundred thousand dollars each year to pay players and officials.
"Now, we get nothing at all and a lot of players and officials have gone to rugby union.
"But we are still surviving, we do fundraising to pay our referees, but the players get nothing, they play rugby league for the love of the game.
"Rugby union gets all the publicity and support from the corporate companies, but in my dreams I know rugby league can be number one in Fiji."
The FNRL last year launched schoolboy competitions to help promote the sport to youngsters on the island, but Peni fears any development of rugby league talent could play into rugby union's hands.
"They can offer the better players money (to play union) but we can't," he said.
The FNRL is so cash-strapped that the national side which has travelled to Coffs Harbour for the Orara Valley Sevens tournament this weekend would never have made the trip had it not been for help of local sponsors.
Former Coffs Harbour premiership-winning captain-coach Mal Fittler, who is coaching the side during their visit Downunder, dug into his pocket to help the side come over here.
Fittler yesterday bemoaned the lack of support from the NRL to help the Fijian competition.
"Mr Gallop (NRL CEO David Gallop) please help, just a little bit," was all Fittler need to say to sum up Fiji's financial plight.