League: Man of steel rates Wiki as toughest rival

By Wayne Heming

Petero Civoniceva will depart as Australia's most-capped test forward (45 matches).  Photo / Greg Bowker
Petero Civoniceva will depart as Australia's most-capped test forward (45 matches). Photo / Greg Bowker

It is no surprise Ruben Wiki's name comes up when Petero Civoniceva is asked who whacked him the hardest.

After a league career with numerous parallels to rival Civoniceva's, Kiwi legend Wiki retired four years ago widely regarded as one of league's most respected, admired and certainly toughest players.

Fiji-born Civoniceva, 36, steps out at his beloved Suncorp Stadium for the final time tonight for Brisbane against Penrith - the only other NRL club he's played for in his 15-year career - and is set to bow out of the game with similar accolades.

Civoniceva and Wiki launched their careers as raw, power-running backs before being moved into the forwards at prop by coaches who recognised their special toughness and durability.

Playing a position requiring relentless aggression, both are revered as gentlemen of the game.

Wiki held the world record for the most tests (55) until it was broken last year by Darren Lockyer.

Civoniceva will depart as Australia's most-capped test forward (45 matches).

Wiki played 315 NRL games despite some bad injuries and suspensions.

Civoniceva lines up for his 308th tonight and, should Brisbane make it all the way to the grand final, he'll end his career on 312 NRL games having won two, or possibly three premierships - all with the Broncos.

Asked before his farewell-to-the-fans game who had hit him the hardest, Civoniceva paused in thought and said: "Reuben Wiki was someone I respected for a long time. He was always someone who was hard to go against."

He said his long-time rival at club and test level had earned everyone's respect for the force with which he hit and how hard he played the game.

Wiki said the feeling was mutual despite the battering they gave each other. "Two coconuts going at each other, you've got to expect something," said Wiki.

"When we played at club and international level, our job for our team was to get on top of each other but we always paid our respects with a 'good tackle Pet' or 'good tackle Rubes' on the field.

"I looked up to Petero for what he did for the Broncos and for Penrith.

"He was very passionate whenever he played for Queensland and Australia - he loved playing for his mates."

It was Wiki who inspired New Zealand to one of their greatest international victories and one of Civoniceva's most disappointing losses in the 2005 Tri Nations final when the Kiwis thumped Wayne Bennett's Kangaroos 24-0 in a massive upset in front of a huge crowd at Elland Road in England.

While they played aggressively and were suspended at times during their careers, Civoniceva and Wiki had gentle natures that endeared them to supporters.

"I think it comes down to the Polynesian culture. We're very humble people and it's all about looking after our families," said Wiki.

"We play the game we love hard but we don't get involved in the niggle you often see on the field.

"Petero is a fine example of that and it's why he's so respected and why everyone wishes him well."

Civoniceva acknowledges Wiki would have had a strong rival as toughest opponent if he had not played in the same team as Shane Webcke for much of his career.

"I was probably very lucky I got to play alongside Shane Webcke because he was someone opposition players hated going up against," said Civoniceva. "I was lucky that I packed down with Shane and had an opportunity to learn so much from himand Andrew Gee."

Apart from his sheer size, the thing that stood out about Civoniceva was his name - unusual to most Australians. He decided early in his career to go with CIV-ONI-CEVA - a lot different from how it sounds in Fiji.

Asked to pronounce it correctly for the TV cameras at training this week, he said: "'Smith."

"I would have loved [commentators] to have had to try and pronounce it the way it sounds for 15 years of rugby league."

PETERO CIVONICEVA

Born: April 21, 1976, Suva, Fiji.
Height: 193cm. Weight: 109kg.
Junior football: Redcliffe.
NRL games: 307.
Clubs: Brisbane 1998-2007, Penrith 2008-11, Brisbane 2012.
First grade debut: Brisbane v Norths at ANZ Stadium (Brisbane), 26/4/1998 (Rd 7).
Winning Grand Finals: 2 with Brisbane 1998, 2006.

Representative record

Australia: Tests 45 (2001-11).
Kangaroo tours 2001, 2003; Tri Nations tours 2004, 2005, World Cup 2008, Four Nations tour 2009.
Queensland: State of Origins - 33 games (2001-12).

Other achievements

Represented NRL All Stars 2011, Dally M prop of the year 2008, RLPA Players' player of the year 2008, Penrith player of the year 2008, Paul Morgan Medal winner (Brisbane player of the year) 2004, 2006, 2007.

- AAP

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