”DON’T come back unless you’ve got a contract”.
They were the last words Marika Koroibete heard from his father before leaving his family home in the remote Fijian village of Navaiyawa to pursue his NRL dream.
It may not sound like a loving farewell, but it was in every sense.
When he waved goodbye to his son at the airport, he was hoping Marika would not have to come back to the life he once lived.
He wanted better for his son.
”His dad wanted him to come to play footy,” said Joel Greig, the man responsible for luring Koroibete to the Tigers.
”He knew it was his son’s big chance to make some money and make something of himself. His dad virtually said, when he goes, he’s not coming back unless he’s signed.”
Well, Koroibete did not let his father down – not that his father would have been able to get to a television to see his son’s four-try feat on Monday.
From the family farm in his home town, Koroibete travelled 20 kilometres a day by foot to get to school and back.
He is now learning how to drive a car, but still has to rely on public transport and lifts from teammates to get from his home in Yagoona to the Tigers headquarters in Concord.
The quietly spoken Koroibete, described by Tigers insiders as the fastest man in the NRL, could have made a career out of sprinting if he was not so shy.
”He clocked 10.75 in the 100 metres when he was 17, that was the school record,” Greig said.
”At the provincial schools carnival, he pulled out because he thought if he won … he’d have to make a speech.
”He’s really, really shy … but once he warms to you, he’s a really funny kid. From where he’s come from to now, it’s unbelievable. All the guys at footy are his family here.”
So how does a kid with a severe case of stage fright go from farming on a village in the Fijian hills to dancing on Campbelltown Sports Stadium?
Four tries in half an hour in your second NRL game certainly helps, but if it was not for the Australian Fijian Rugby League, Koroibete would not have left his parents.
The 20-year-old speedster was selected in the national under 20s team after an impressive performance for the Fijian residents against the Australian-born Fijians in 2009.
He then toured Australia under Greig, who is also the Tigers’ assistant coach for the Toyota Cup, before he was lured to the joint venture despite plenty of interest from rival clubs.
”I told the guys at the Tigers straight away about him, but there was already a bit of interest from Newcastle, Souths and the Roosters,” Greig said.
”Anybody who’d seen this kid knew what he was going to be one day.”
The Tigers’ Toyota Cup coach and former prop, Todd Payten, said Koroibete reminded him of his former Canberra teammate, the Fijian flyer Noa Nadruku.
”They have a lot of similarities; both pretty raw with exceptional speed, no fear at all and they know how to find the try line,” Payten said.
”The most exciting part with Marika is that we’re only really scratching the surface. He’s got a couple of little issues and once we iron them out, he’s certainly going to be a crowd pleaser.
”At Canberra they expected Noa to be able to do something every time he got the ball. Last night the crowd went up every time Marika got the ball, especially after his first two tries.”
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