Family values the key for Super Sefa

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The words of Sefa Naivalu’s mother ring in his ears every day.

Teresin Uluilakeba passed away in 2012, almost two years before he moved to Australia, telling him before she passed she had faith that he would achieve his Rugby dream, with one one important rider.

“Before she passed away she said, ‘I know you’re going to make it in your Rugby career but never forget you have a brother and sister back home’,” he recalls.

“So those words motivate me when it comes to Australia.”          

Naivalu is the middle of five children, with three of his siblings still in Fiji and one sister living in England.

His father has recently re-joined the military, serving in Iraq, something that Naivalu hasn’t quite come to terms with.Sefa with Melbourne Rebels GM of Rugby Operations Baden Stephen as the first ever player to sign a contract directly from the Dewar Shield. Photo: Rebels Media Unit

“He told me last minute that he was going over, it was really playing in my head, everything that has happened there like the killing, but I’m just going to accept that that is his choice,” he says.

“He was in the military when he was 18 and then resigned for a while and then, he  decided to go back in.”

Rugby was always the end goal for Naivalu, who idolised Mark Gerrard as a child growing up in Fiji and when an opportunity came to move to Australia, he took it, not knowing where it would lead but hoping it would take him to the Test arena.

“It was my dream when I was small too - one of my favourite Rugby players when I was small was Mark Gerrard.

“He had that body like a silky man just slip into the gap with speed.”

When he signed his first Melbourne Rebels contract, becoming the first player to be signed out of Melbourne’s Dewar Shield, national duties were still nearly three years away but at the forefront of Naivalu’s mind.

“I just mentally focus that I can do it, that I can get better and look forward to another season." - Sefa Naivalu 

“When I signed this contract, I said: ‘Sit down and think I’ve made it, I’ve made it but that’s not the only thing that I want. There’s one more, which is to play for the Wallabies’,” he says.

He thought a broken leg in 2015 was the end, an injury that put him out of the game for close to a year and had him worrying about losing the pace that had made him such a hot prospect.

“To be honest, once I break my leg on the field (in) my head, I just think negative straight away like, ‘I’m going to end my Rugby career, that’s in my head.

“Then I’ve come to the stage when in crutches, if everyone can manage their injury I can.

“I just mentally focus that I can do it, that I can get better and look forward to another season."

Sefa Naivalu is now eligible to play for the Wallabies. Photo: Getty ImagesLooking back he feels that injury has made him more resilient, his confidence slowly returning as he made his comeback.

“First game I didn’t have full confidence, kinda sore, kinda holding back a little bit because I just want to protect myself from getting injured again so probably after maybe five games I starting to get my confidence back,” he says.

Any fear seems to have been assuaged as the year has ticked on, with Naivalu laying big hits at Wallabies training, with no sign of hesitation in contact sessions.

This year was a waiting game for him, the hype around #SuperSefa finally becoming eligible was hard to ignore, but he maintained his patience, waiting for the email that eventually came to bring him into camp.

“For me, I come from a humble family, I sit back and listen,” he says.

“If sometimes people ask why you're not going to the camp? And I say, you’ve just got to be patient and wait for the call.

“I tell them, ‘I’m just going to wait for the call and email and I can’t wait to go straight away. So, probably the respect I have for Cheika is unbelievable. I respect the way he is.

“To me family is the most important. I’m Fijian. God comes first, family comes second, so I look after my two younger brothers and sisters." - Sefa Naivalu

“(When) he emailed me, my heart is just beating as fast, I couldn’t believe the actual coach emailed me to come up to camp, even though people think I should be in the Wallabies but for me (I’m just) taking this opportunity as it comes, getting involved in the program with the boys.”

He became Wallaby No.900, the 10th debutant of 2016, in Pretoria, the culmination of a lifetime of work.

Naivalu will have his first Test start in Paris, his fourth involvement overall, but will never forget where he has come from.

“To me family is the most important. I’m Fijian,” he says.

“God comes first, family comes second, so I look after my two younger brothers and sisters. 

“I tell them, ‘if you need anything, just give me a call and I’ll send it straight away. Anything.”

Australia vs France will be screened LIVE on SBS and Foxtel’s beIn Sports 3 (channel 515) kicking off at 7am Sunday AEDT.