Ravalawa travels light from Fiji to bright lights of NRL

When rookie St George Illawarra winger Mikaele Ravalawa arrived from Fiji to begin his NRL career he had nothing more than a backpack with a change of clothes and his football boots.

Ravalawa, who was recruited by the Raiders in 2017 after being spotted playing rugby union in Christchurch, recounted his introduction to Australia as he spoke about his hopes of establishing himself at the Dragons beyond his current two-year contract.

After landing at Canberra airport at the start of the 2017 season, Ravalawa was met by Raiders welfare manager David Thom.

"We went down to the luggage room and we were waiting there for a while," Ravalawa said.

"I turned around to him and asked what are we waiting for, and he just said ‘we are waiting for your luggage’.

"I said ‘sorry, I don’t have any luggage. I have just got my backpack here’. It was just a small backpack."

Ravalawa’s backpack contained nowhere enough to survive a Canberra winter.

"I just had some clothes – just one spare undies, one pants, a shirt and my rugby boots. That’s all," he said.

"When I got there it was getting cold and I was like, ‘oh, it’s freezing’. Straight after my first payment I went shopping and I started buying warm stuff like jumpers."

The former Fiji under 18s rugby sevens captain had little knowledge of rugby league or interest in the NRL but after winning Canberra’s under 20s player of the year in 2017, earning selection in the Bati’s World Cup squad and making his debut for the Dragons in round one that has changed.

Gradually improving with each NRL appearance, the 21-year-old has scored three tries in his last two matches against Newcastle and Canterbury, made 19 line breaks and is averaging 136.5 running metres in five games. 

Fiji teammate and former South Sydney utility James Storer, who lives in Wollongong, has taken Ravalawa under his wing since he joined St George Illawarra and the pair regularly go fishing together.

"I know James from when I went to the World Cup," Ravalawa said.

"He just came down to the beach to play touch. I went there and saw him there. The next morning, we went spear diving and caught some fish.

"He is a good bloke. He just told me to contact him if I wanted anything. He always helps others and treats them in the same way."

After having to rely on teammates to take him to training in Canberra, Ravalawa is enjoying living near WIN Stadium, where the Dragons host Manly on Saturday night.

"It’s like way different moving from Canberra to Wolllongong than coming from Fiji to Canberra," he said.

"In Canberra I lived like 30 minutes away from the stadium. 

"The weather in Wollongong is pretty much like back home and it is so nice. The stadium is near the sea and you breathe good air at training.

"The first time coming here I was so nervous. I didn’t really know some of the big Aussie players like Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims and Paul Vaughan. I had just heard of them and seen them on TV but everyone has welcomed me.

"I am here for a few years and if I play good I will probably go for them again."