Rookie St George Illawarra winger Mikaele Ravalawa has expressed his sorrow over the Christchurch terrorist attack as he prepares to line up against another former schoolboy star from the New Zealand city in Brisbane’s Jamayne Isaako.
Ravalawa, who will make his third NRL appearance in Thursday night’s clash with the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, attended school in Christchurch and maintains regular contact with the family he lived with while on a rugby union scholarship.
The 22-year-old Fijian said they had messaged him after the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, which occurred just kilometres from Burnside High where he had gone to school before being recruited by Canberra in 2017.
“I was a bit sad the first time I heard of it,” Ravalawa said of the massacre. “I keep in touch with my home-stay mum and my home-stay brother and sister. They were telling me about what was happening. They just messaged me and were telling me there had been the shooting. It was very sad.”
Ravalawa's comments come as Manly and Warriors players travel to Christchurch to take part in a series of community events aimed at raising morale ahead of Saturday night's match in the South Island city, which will be attended by NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.
Isaako, the 2018 NRL rookie of the year, also played schoolboy rugby union in Christchurch for St Bede’s College and told the Broncos website that he used to play in the park opposite the Al Noor Mosque, where most of the 50 victims were killed.
The pair will play on opposite sides of the field as they have each been selected on the right wing for their respective teams.
“I was aiming to come to the Dragons and play first grade and my dream has come true,” Ravalawa said. “It was too hard down there [in Canberra] with Jordan Rapana and Nick Cotric, they are good players. I came to the Dragons and I was lucky enough to get picked for the first round.”
Ravalawa had never watched an NRL match before he was scouted by Raiders recruitment manager Peter Mulholland after a representative rugby union match in Wellington.
The Fiji Under-18s Rugby Sevens captain was a star of the Crusaders regional schools competition and one of its leading try-scorers.
He had been in the sights of the Crusaders but moved to Canberra in 2017 and was the Raiders under 20s player of the year.
“In Christchurch, I was playing for Burnside High School and I was playing for the Crusaders junior team, the Knights,” Ravalawa said.
“I was just there for a year and I was going to go back to Christchurch but the contract from the Raiders came in so I went to Canberra.
“All of my life I had never watched rugby league, I only watched rugby union, but league just came up and now I am starting to watch rugby league. It is more fun.”
After joining the Dragons this season, Ravalawa forced his way into NRL contention with a two-try haul in a trial against Newcastle and edged out Junior Kangaroos representative Zac Lomax for the right wing spot in the Round 1 clash with North Queensland.
Ravalawa carried the ball a team-high 151 metres from 16 runs and made 10 tackle breaks in his NRL debut against the Cowboys. He ran 95 metres from 10 carries in last Thursday night’s 34-18 loss to South Sydney.
“I am still getting there, I’ve got lots to learn,” he said. “The first game I did well in that round and in the second round, in the first half we did good but in the second half we were going down.”