Canberra Vikings flanker Rob Valetini always knows when his mum is on the sideline – the booming voice calling his name is unmistakable.
The Melbourne-born son of Fijian parents confirmed his family and friends are making the trip north when the Viking host NRC table-toppers Fiji Drua at Viking Park on Friday.
Valetini wants to lead Vikings back to winnings ways after two narrow losses, while young gun five-eighth Mack Hansen will make his NRC debut off the bench.
The 19-year-old Valetini admits he wanted to play Fiji on the road this season and said there will be extra fire in the belly against his country of heritage.
“When I saw the fixture this was the game I was looking forward to the most, there will be some big hits and big runs and it’ll definitely be a tough one,” Valetini said.
“Mum and dad and my siblings and a couple of uncles are coming up from Melbourne to watch this one, they’re pretty rapt to see me play against Fijians.
“I always heard mum on the sideline in my junior rugby so I’ll definitely know she’s here because she’ll be screaming out my name and let me know if I miss a tackle.
“I’m expecting lots of running rugby and the lungs to be pumping because they’re so dangerous with the ball and can attack from anywhere.”
Valetini arrived at the ACT Brumbies 10 months ago as just the second Australian forward to sign a Super Rugby contract while still in high school.
The 113 kilograms and 193 centimetres teenager has lived up to the hype with an impressive season at Wests and is looking forward to working with Brumbies superstar David Pocock next year.
“I feel pretty comfortable out there… there’s nerves before games but as soon as I’m out there I just play rugby and do what I do best, I love it,” Valetini said.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff from the boys about Pocock and how hard he works, being young I can learn plenty off him and hopefully be as good as him one day.”
Vikings coach Tim Sampson said Valetini has played beyond his years this season and tipped the powerful back-rower to leave a lasting impact in the capital.
“He doesn’t look like a teenager running around out there, he’s very composed and is breaking tackles which is a good sign that physically he’s ready at this level,” Sampson said.
“There’s always a lot of pressure when an organisation signs someone from interstate but I think he’s progressing really well and has a big future.”
The Vikings sit fourth on the NRC ladder with two wins and two losses and Sampson said the clash against Drua is crucial in the context of their eight-game season.
Spectators are encouraged to donate old boots and rugby gear at Viking Park night with the collection to be sent to underprivileged players in Fiji.
“It’s great to recognise and help our neighbours out because rugby is a culture in Fiji and it’s great to give something back to those guys less fortunate back home,” Valetini said.
NATIONAL RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND FIVE:
Canberra Vikings v Fiji Drua, Viking Park, Friday 7:30pm, tickets available at the gate.
1. Faalelei Sione 2. Folau Faingaa 3. Joel Penders 4. Darcy Swain 5. Blake Enever 6. Rob Valetini 7. Tom Cusack (c) 8. Lolo Fakao’silea 9. Ryan Lonergan 10. Wharenui Hawera 11. Ben Johnston 12. James Dargaville 13. Andrew Robinson 14. Andrew Muirhead 15. Tom Banks 16. Robbie Abel 17. Harry Lloyd 18. Les Leuluailii-Makin 19. Angus Allen 20. Dean Oakman-Hunt 21. Pedro Rolando 22. Mack Hansen 23. Len Ikitau