The cultural revolution in rugby league is well and truly under way but whether Fiji will add another chapter to it at the expense of the Kiwis will only become apparent until a shade after 9pm on Saturday.

Dare I say it, victory to the underdogs from the South Pacific will not be the defining moment after the final whistle at the Cake Tin in Wellington because it's just a battle in waging a war against plutocracy.

The insurgency, of course, began well before last Saturday when the Red Army (Mate Ma'a Tonga) and its often boisterous followers, through spasms of violence, off and on the field, rewrote history in Hamilton.

From the eye-balling haka (versus the Tongan Sipi Tau) to the stirring chanting, singing and dancing at the Waikato Stadium, the red wave did not waver to the ecstatic 28-22 victory.


It came reportedly with a part of a Tongan fan base who don't understand the rules of rugby league but find solace in the "heart-warming mafana" (sense of belonging) they believe no other country possesses although Fiji, Tonga and PNG will beg to differ.

So where are all the Kiwi fans?

The Black Army was conspicuous in its absence and any suggestions the Tongans were much quicker in snapping up the tickets is as feeble as the Kangaroos and Kiwis pretending they didn't see the Pacific Island uprising coming in terms of player defections.

The reality is predominantly Pacific Islanders living in Auckland prop up rugby league in this country, even the beleaguered New Zealand Warriors competing in the NRL.

The groundswell of disenchantment stems from the way the Auckland franchise treats its Pacific Island players - with indifference every time they come up shy in the NRL - and there's evidence of that all the way to the team's inception in 1995.

Even Sir Peter Leitch, one of the most devout followers, will be the first to agree that the renaissance of rugby league in New Zealand and the boom in his former butchery business are intertwined and yet so mutually exclusive.

Bagging the likes of "turncoats" Jason Taumalolo will be a favourite pastime, especially if the Kiwis fail to go beyond the quarterfinals this weekend, but it should come as no surprise that the very people who were Leitch's loyal customers, when the Wellingtonian moved to K Road in the Big Smoke to spawn a rash of butchery outlets under the guise of the Mad Butcher, are now showing the same fervour for their heritage.

Players such as Tea Ropati, Joe Vagana, Jerry Seuseu , Ali Lauitiiti, Francis Meli, Ruben Wiki, Kevin Iro, Manu Vatuvei and Ben Matulino were among the scores of dual internationals of Pacific Island heritage who had represented the Kiwis.


The Warriors and the Kiwis are largely synonymous, not to mention the Auckland Rugby League's impasse with franchise owner Eric Watson in closing the deal to buy the NRL entity yesterday.

I've always wondered why the Warriors never felt compelled enough to lure Fijian players, such as Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu who played rugby union for St Kentigern's College in Auckland and even made it to the Blues development squad before switching codes.

In fact, Kiwis coach David Kidwell reportedly sounded out Vunivalu's eligibility for this country earlier this year but the world parent body had knocked him back.

Again, what does it say about the coach's faith in his incumbents?

A taiaha-toting Adam Blair, again, will lead a rousing Kiwis haka but this time there won't be any advancing from the Fijians to lend credence to some emotionally-overcharged, testosterone-filled ritual although I firmly believe it should be a mainstay in rugby league and rugby for myriad reasons.

Instead, Fiji Bati will retreat into a huddle to reboot their resolve with a pre-match hymn called Noqu Masu (My Prayer), which seems to resonate with fans from other nations.

Whether that will prove to be the ideal elixir for a gifted nation of "naturals", that has a history of losing the plot due to indiscipline on the field, remains to be seen.

Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have a history of warring to the turn of the 20th century but, although there's an undeniable sense of brotherhood, there's ample evidence it doesn't take much to turn it into a liability - if the flag-burning act of vandalism in Auckland was anything to go by.

No doubt, the Kiwis will bring aggression but it's how Fiji, who won't have the fan base Tonga have, will react that will determine the result.

The islanders didn't do themselves any favours against Italy, least of all Gold Coast Titans poster boy Jarryd Hayne when he got unfairly sent off for running to the rescue of a teammate who copped a cheap shot from Italy hooker Joe Tramontana.

But Hayne should have known better because it always comes down to the referees' interpretation. Instead, the playmaker needs to focus on what he is capable of doing best.

Kidwell has made two changes - playmaker Te Maire Martin and hooker Danny Levi - but nullifying Hayne and Henry Raiwalui as well as arguably the most potent Fiji backline will help the hosts' cause. I suspect veteran Akuila Uate is due to deliver.

Perhaps the biggest Kiwi ally will be the cooler 10C temperature at kick-off time and the stiff and swirling southeasterlies.

But with Tongan coach Kristian Woolf calling for equal footing in test rugby league, it'll pay to be aware that passion fuels Fiji where an unskilled labour force earns F$2.68 an hour for a living and players fear no one but god in becoming a catalyst in trying to break the shackles of rugby league domination that should be reserved for the power of more than just the chosen three.