Family blessing that led to Samu Kerevi becoming a Wallaby

Rugby World Cup
by Emma Greenwood

He's shaping as one of the stars of this World Cup.

But if Samu Kerevi plays a hand in Australia bringing home the Webb Ellis Cup, it will be due in no small part to the parents that granted their blessing for the Wallabies centre to turn out for Australia.

Sai and Nimi Kerevi have made many sacrifices in a bid to give their son a better life.

Samu Kerevi trains in Japan ahead of the Wallabies' World Cup opener against Fiji. Photo: Stuart Walmsley/Rugby AU Media

Battling for a good quality of life for their family in the Fijian village of Viseisei, just north of Nadi, they made the tough decision to farewell their son almost 20 years ago as he headed to the Solomon Islands with his grandparents.

But a coup there - and then another in Fiji as they were on their way back - left him making a new life in Australia.

"We stopped in Australia, luckily and I've been blessed enough to be able to do what I have to do and reach the goals that I have now, so I'm really excited to be here," Kerevi said before leaving for the World Cup.

"I was raised by my grandparents, my mum and dad still live in Fiji and they had to let me have an opportunity for a better life.

Samu Kerevi hams it up in Japan. Photo: Stuart Walmsley/Rugby AU Media

"My family was doing it really tough back in Fiji at that time and it was a lot different, the environment that they had, but now I'm really grateful that god's come into our lives and changed that for my family and it's just awesome to have the opportunities that I do have here in Australia.

"That was a big reason why I play so hard, for family and for Australia, that's given me so much."

Rugby is a religion in Fiji and while he did not start playing until he was in Australia, Kerevi already had a love of the game.

"You're kind of born with it in Fiji, it's kind of everywhere," he said.

"But the first time I played rugby was here in Australia, for Souths, when I was about seven years old and started playing footy there.

Samu Kerevi trains in Japan ahead of the Wallabies' World Cup opener against Fiji. Photo: Stuart Walmsley/Rugby AU Media

"That's where my love grew and just the enjoyment of playing footy.

"My grandfather used to give me a cheeseburger every time I scored a try, so I got pretty big when I was young if I scored too many tries.

"One cheeseburger for one try - four tries was a Big Mac. So I always tried for a Big Mac, so that's where the enjoyment came."

The burger king was getting noticed and turned out for Fiji in the U20 world championships before representing the Junior Wallabies the following year.

But it was after his first year of Super Rugby that the nationality debate became serious for Kerevi after he was selected in the Wallabies squad.

 

"Fiji will always be home for me. I played for Fiji in the U20 World Cup and it was the following year I got selected for the Junior Wallabies U20s," he said.

"In 2015, I got selected to the (Wallabies) squad. I didn't play a game but I got selected to the squad in my first year of Super Rugby and I called mum and dad and asked them if it was okay if I played for Aussie."

Having well and truly satisfied citizenship requirements, Kerevi did not need his parents' permission.

But it was a mark of respect.

"They were crying on the phone, they were like, whatever opportunity god gives you, you take it and they were happy with whoever I played for," he said.

Samu Kerevi has settled into the Test scene. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

"They just came out and were crying and giggled and said: 'that's fine'. They were really happy for me to represent Australia because it's my second home now.

"It's given me so many opportunities - not just for myself but for all my family.

"It's a land of many opportunities and it was a dream come true to finally put that jersey on because I wanted to pay that respect back to Australia, who had developed me.

"That was when I knew I wanted to give back to Australia, which has given me so much.

"(When) I finally made my debut it was a really humbling opportunity and  time for my family."

 

Kerevi will play his first World Cup in Japan and it could possibly be his last after he made the decision to leave the Reds and head to Japan for the next three years

The 25-year-old is well short of qualification to be selected for the Wallabies from overseas under the Giteau Law but the desire to be closer to the brothers he spent little time with growing up is a massive part of his motivation.

Kerevi's parents still live in Fiji and are likely to have mixed feelings when their son - now vice-captain of the Wallabies - runs out in the World Cup opener on Saturday against Fiji.

The love of family will win out though for Sai and Nimi, who say they are "blessed and grateful" for the opportunities Australia and Kervi's grandparents Peceli, and his now deceased grandmother Maria Viriki, have provided their son.

 

"I flew mum and dad over last year and in 2017 as well they were excited to come here for the first time and they were tearing up and just telling me how blessed we are and how grateful they were to god for blessing us this much," Kerevi said.

"It's still surreal putting on a gold jersey every time you play.

"Even today, to think that you've got the opportunity to play in the World Cup, that's a really humbling feeling.

"I come from a small island in Fiji, the environment that I grew up in wasn't too nice and for me to be able to wear this jersey is really special."