It wasn’t until just under two years ago that Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani played professional Rugby alongside one another, as 24-year-old Reds centre Kerevi was named for his Wallaby debut alongside 27-year-old Brumbies centre Kuridrani.
The familiarity needed to forge a strong midfield connection was already there, however, as a result of over a decade of friendship and respect between the Fijian-born duo, who both grew up as teenagers in Brisbane.
This weekend, Kuridrani will become the 57th player to reach 100 Super Rugby caps for Australian teams, and just the second Fijian to do so after fellow Brumby Henry Speight reached the mark last month. We asked Samu to tell us more about Tevita’s journey thus far.
“Tevita’s family came over to Australia from Fiji a little bit later than most of us here in Brisbane,” Kerevi explained.
“There’s a pretty rich history of great players coming through the Brisbane Fiji Rugby Club like he has. I met him when I was in high school through the Fijian community. I’m a couple of years younger than him and a few other guys from the Club who have gone on to become professional players; Junior Rasolea, Chris Kuridrani and Teti Tela.
“He is cousins with Chris but more like brothers, as their dads are brothers, and we all grew up together and played touch every afternoon after school. That’s how we learnt how to play footy, and we all aspired to be professional Rugby players.
“Even back then, Tevita was the same guy he is now – he’s always been a humble, family-loving man, quiet but pretty funny. He still doesn’t speak all that much, he’s always led by his actions. The Fijian community is like a big family in Brisbane, and we’re all related through our experiences together rather than through blood.”
Kuridrani moved to University of Queensland to play his Colts Rugby after finishing his schooling at Corinda State High School, earning first Fijian U20 selection (2009) and then Australian U20 and Rugby Sevens selection (2010) before being snapped up by then-Brumbies Coach Jake White to move to Canberra in 2012.
It’s where he remains today, having missed just twelve matches in those seven seasons. It was a big move, however, away from family, friends and a climate that is more comparable to Fiji than Canberra’s.
“I have spoken to him about why he moved to Canberra a couple of times,” Kerevi said. “He was obviously hoping to get that opportunity here in Queensland, but the Brumbies had a long-term vision in place and brought a bunch of younger guys together and gave them their shot at the same time.
“A lot of the young guys who started together are still there, and the Brumbies have a real focus on family and community; they’ve created a really tight family bond there, they’re not from Canberra but they’ve come from around the country and clicked as a group.
“Tevita, along with Henry Speight, has added his own Fijian flavour to that group, and then there’s some other guys from Islander backgrounds like Allan Alaalatoa, Christian Leali’ifano and Scott Sio, as well as somebody like David Pocock who supports them in the expression their culture so much and encourages their energy. It’s a credit to Tevita to have stayed loyal there for so long.”
Tevita made his Wallaby debut against New Zealand in 2013 and instantly looked at home on the international stage, playing 57 of the 64 Tests since including the historic and emotional occasion of playing against Fiji at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Kerevi said that he, Tevita and other Fijian players to represent Australia remain incredibly proud to be Fijian.
“Obviously we could have played for Fiji, but each of us committed to Australia because it is a country we love and it has given so much to us and our families,” Kerevi said.
“Even though we play for the Wallabies, we still want to respect our culture and our heritage and where we are from and above all we glorify God. That’s the foundation of how we live our lives, putting God first, and we feel very fortunate that He has blessed us with the talent to do this.”
Kerevi models a lot of his game and his approach to Rugby and life on what he’s seen Tevita do before him, and Kuridrani made him feel instantly comfortable in the Wallaby environment when he was first called up.
“I’ve been chasing Tevita for as long as I have been playing Super Rugby,” Kerevi said.
“He is the pinnacle for outside centres in Australian Rugby. Playing against him, he’s a guy you don’t want to run into too much. He tackles the house down and he attacks so well, and I have always chased him to try and become the best I can be.
“We are always competing, I always mark any game against the Brumbies on the calendar and I know it’s going to be an amazing match playing against ‘T’. It’s a healthy relationship between him and I but we always have competition with each other as well.
“When I first got called up into the Wallabies squad, I knew I was going to be comfortable because he and Henry (Speight) were there already and then when I debuted they took me under their wing and looked after me on the field.
On the field I was asking him heaps of questions, as he has so much experience, and it wasn’t too hard for him to help me adjust how I defended. He gave me so much assistance with detail, and that’s where I’ve gained the confidence to back myself more, because he does it so well. I know he has my back from 13 when I’m playing 12, and he has made life a lot easier when I’m playing alongside him.”
In the past two years, Marika Koroibete and Sefanaia Naivalu have helped to swell the number of Fijians in the Australian ranks, and Kerevi is looking to replicate the warm welcome Kuridrani provided for him.
“When I first joined the Wallaby squad, he was kind of like my big brother.
“He was shouting me everything and making sure I was fed, paying for everything on my first tour, and really focusing on looking after me. I definitely aspire to be like Tevita and help welcome the other new Fijian guys who come in.
“Tevita has been in the Wallabies squad for so long, and guys like him and Radike Samo before us set the culture up for all of us to look after each other, so to follow ‘T’, how much he has contributed and how he has conducted himself is something I want to do. Guys like Marika and Sefa, we want to help them in that team environment and encourage them to be themselves. We’re always singing songs with the ukulele, having fun together and celebrating our culture.”
Away from footy, Tevita is a bit of a mystery and if you’re here hoping to hear some of his deepest, darkest secrets, then I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place.
“I have been on a lot of holidays with Tevita, and I’ll have to keep a fair few of those stories in the back pocket,” Kerevi laughed. “I call him family, and he hasn’t changed from day one - he still loves to tell his Fijian jokes, and if you’re lucky enough to be in the room to hear them they are actually pretty funny.
“He truly has an amazing family, his Mum just finished her degree, and the support system that they provide for each other is really important. He’s so willing to help others off the field, and I know I can always call him and talk to him about anything.
“He still doesn’t want me to pay for anything even now - he is still trying to look after me, and that is really humbling, but I’m old enough to look after myself now!”
Finally, what message did Samu have for Tevita, as he prepares for his 100th game in Johannesburg against the Lions?
“I know Tevita will think of it as a massive blessing from the big man upstairs and I guess from me, I just want to tell Tevita congratulations.
“You know I’m always wanting to be better because you have set the bar so high, not just for Fijians but for centres out there in the world.
“A lot of Australian players aspire to reach 100 caps, it’s an amazing achievement and I know you’ve done your family proud and I know you’ve done the Fijian community both here in Brisbane and back home proud.
“For this week, good luck to you, good luck to the brothers playing with you and keep God in your foundation as you always have. As you write on your wrist, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength”
“I am grateful you’re in not just mine, but also my family’s life, and I just want you to keep doing your thing. God Bless.”
On behalf of everybody at RUPA, and all of Australia’s professional players, we congratulate Tevita Kuridrani on becoming the 57th member of the RUPA Centurions Club.
Tevita Kuridrani Fact File
Born: Suva, Fiji, 31st March 1997
Super Rugby Caps: 99, 19 tries (95 points)
Super Rugby Debut: Round 7, 2012, vs. Reds (20-13 loss, Suncorp Stadium)
Wallaby Caps: 58, 19 tries (95 points)
Other Representative Teams: Fiji U20s (2010), Australia U20s (2011), Australia Rugby Sevens (2001-2011)