The Fiji Tribe conquering at AFL International Cup

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Fiji may be best known for it's prowess on the rugby field, but the team known as the Tribe is turning heads in Melbourne at the AFL International Cup.

Standing in a circle on the oval, arms linked on a cold Melbourne afternoon, the 30 players of the Tribe sing a team song.

Their harmonies are reminiscent of a well rehearsed church choir, not a football team.

They may be relatively new converts, but Australian Rules Football is already like a religion to these men competing in the AFL International Cup in Melbourne.

Fiji Tribe sings in the park
Fiji Tribe sings in the park
SBS

A team of former rugby union devotees, the Tribe are fit and firing in the sixth staging of the Cup that every three years brings AFL teams together from all over the world.

The Tribe have already mastered the pace and the skills of the game, now Captain Alipate Navuso said they just have to get used to the weather.

"It's really cold compared to Fiji, and it's affecting most of the boys. We're not used to four degrees, three degrees, we're used to 40 degrees."

And the frosty Melbourne winter is causing headaches for the coaching staff.

Fiji Tribe train in the park
Fiji Tribe train in the park
SBS

With many of players on their first international trip, coach Simon Highfield said not only is he dealing with the daily complaints from players but he's also fielding calls from concerned parents that their sons are wearing enough clothes.

"I've been receiving all sorts of phone calls from family members checking the boys have enough blankets and jumpers."

But there wasn't a jumper in sight as the Tribe fronted the opposition in round one.

Fiji obliterated France 80-to-14, shooting them to the top of the ladder after their first game.

Vice captain Isimeli Qiolevu said every player on the team has the capacity to be an AFL great, like West Coast star Nic Naitanui born to Fijian parents.

Fiji Vice captain Isimeli Qiolevu
Fiji Vice captain Isimeli Qiolevu
SBS

"Everyone here can be Nic Naitanui if we work together and do the job well done during the game."

But the game goes against the grain for much of the rugby union centric country.

Player John Valetiri said many of his friends questioned his decision to play Australian Rules Football.

"Telling me that's a girl's game, but I tell them don't try and criticise, just for once just try to play footy and you will fall in love with it, just like that."

It's a mindset the team working to change.

Working on a shoestring budget, coach Simon Highfield and team manager Maciu Raida are running development programs in local schools and other sporting clubs to attract more players.

And Highfield said so far it's showing results.

"Numbers wise we've grown 6000-8000 participants in a year, which is from junior level schools and communities and things like that, as far as the senior competition goes we've got a more structured competition and a sponsor. It's known as the Powerade Cup."

The Tribe rugging up for the cold Melbourne day
The Tribe rugging up for the cold Melbourne day
SBS

The team finished just outside the top eight at the conclusion of the 2014 Cup, but this tournament they're determined to show they're a nation of much more than just rugby union.

Team manager Maciu Raida said the Tribe are setting their sights at the final at the MCG in what will be their third attempt at the flag.

He said the team and their villages are in awe of the opportunities the game has given them.

"The boys say, I can fly in the plane, I can reach another destination, an overseas country so once they're playing, they're giving their best for their country and their families."

Sending a stark warning to the other nine countries in their division, the Tribe is just getting warmed up.

Fiji Captain Alipate Navuso
Fiji Captain Alipate Navuso
SBS

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