In my Shoes: Tui Kamikamica
So far rugby league has taken me to six different cities, two different countries and given me a lifetime of memories, all by the age of 23.
I am honoured to share my story with you so I hope you will like it.
It all started long before I arrived in Melbourne three months ago.
I grew up on the island of Taveuni, about 15 kilometres off the Fijian mainland. My village, Somosomo, is home to around 300 people.
There was no TV and our only source of electricity was a generator that was shut off at 9pm. After that, all we had was candles to find our way around at night.
It sounds difficult but to be honest, I could not think of a better place to grow up. I spent the first 11 years of my life there and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Life was easy.
My house was only five metres away from the beautiful, blue water of the ocean.
I loved to go fishing, farming, planting crops and playing footy with my friends after we’d finish walking back down the steep mountain our school sat on top of.
As perfect as village life was to me I eventually I had to leave to further my studies.
My whole family, mum, dad and younger sister, packed up and moved to the city of Suva, the same city Suliasi Vunivalu is from.
Most island kids make this move when it is time to go to secondary school but that didn’t make it any easier.
Suddenly my life was a lot harder. I was a village boy and not used to this big city.
Growing up, the kids in the main cities are different from us in the village so at the time I felt this culture shock. Life is faster, lights are everywhere, the noise never stops.
That is the main reason why I wanted to go to a boarding school because in Fiji, living in a boarding school is kind of like living on the islands.
After trying out for their rugby union team, I was lucky enough to earn a place at the Queen Victoria boarding school, a two-hour drive away from Suva.
I spent the next three years of my life there and it was definatly full on.
You wake up at 5.30am to work in the gardens for an hour.
Breakfast is then at 7am, school starts from 8am to 3.30pm.
Then you go straight to footy training until 6.30pm but then you have study from 7pm until lights out at 10pm.
That was my routine, the same thing every single day for three years.
After three years there, at the end of 2012, we were playing in one of the top finals for secondary school level.
We made the Grand Final and scouts had come to watch the game.
There was one scout in particular from the Parramatta Eels who was there to watch this player from the other team and offer him a contract.
But after the game instead of offering him one, the scout turned around and offered me the contract instead!
Because my school was for Rugby Union, this was the first time ever a student had been recruited to play rugby league in Australia.
My life changed forever that day.
I was 17 at the time when I made the move over here and it was really tough, I didn’t know anyone.
Leaving my parents and all my family back home, after that first week I just thought ‘What am I doing here?’
The training at Parramatta was so different to back home. We didn’t have the facilities in Fiji like we have weights and stuff here.
I also didn’t have long to adjust.
I arrived on the Monday, trained for the week and we had a trial for the 20s on that same Saturday.
I remember that first game, everyone was laughing at me.
I had never played rugby league before, only union, and nobody had ever explained to me that you needed to play the ball after you were tackled.
So when I got it for the first time and got tackled to the ground I just threw the ball backwards. The referee blew a penalty and everyone just started laughing.
It took me some time to adjust to rugby league but about halfway through that first season in the 20s it started to click.
I starting thinking that I preferred rugby league, just the physicality of the game. Union has too many stops, line outs. League is full on.
I fell in love with rugby league..
I met a lot of great people at Parramatta but the one who went out of his way to help me was Fuifui Moimoi.
When I first came to Parramatta, Fui was one of the first to help me because he was from the islands as well.
He taught me everything. What to expect at training and the discipline especially because sometimes as an island boy you can get caught up in the wrong crowd.
He was the one who steered me the other way, to be successful. Fui was the guy who always pulled me aside and talked to me.
After three years at Parramatta my rugby league journey would take another turn at the end of 2015.
I have an uncle who lives in Brisbane so I called him up and asked if he knew if any teams were looking for players.
Before I knew it, I was back on a plane to head north for a meeting with Trigger (Craig Ingebrigtsen), coach of the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
Trigger explained to me that the Sunshine Coast were a feeder Club for Melbourne so if I play good I might have an opportunity with the Storm.
During my year with the Falcons I was staying in Brisbane with my Uncle and driving to the Sunshine Coast every day, it took me about an hour and a half each way.
I’d finish training at 8pm, drive back down to Brisbane, get home late and back up the next day to train so it was difficult. I wasn’t working either, just training.
I really enjoyed my time there on the Sunshine Coast but it was my aim to get an NRL chance with Storm. Every time I went out to play that was my aim, I always put that at the front of my mind.
“If you play good, someone will see you.”
That is what I told myself.
After Round 6 of last season I sensed that something was about to come when Storm invited me to spend a week with them.
I learned a lot in that week but towards the end of it, before I left, I had a talk with Craig Bellamy.
It was just him, me and Frank Ponissi. This is how the conversation went.
Craig: “How is the Sunshine Coast?”
Me: “Yeh, it’s going good”
Craig: “So, are you working or playing full-time?”
Me: “Just playing”
Craig: “So are there any plans for you next year? Are you going somewhere?”
Me: “No not yet, I don’t have any plans”
Craig: “It would be good for you to come down to Melbourne”
I was just standing there when he said that and was in shock.
One of the greatest ever coaches in the game just asked me to be on his team next year!
We shook hands, he told me to just keep working hard with my footy and we will keep in touch.
About a month later I got selected to play for Fiji in the test against PNG.
I remember after training on the Wednesday before the game I came back and was sitting at the hotel. It was my manager.
The phone rang and he told me that Storm had offered me a contract for two years.
I nearly cried!
I chose not to tell my parents straight away, I wanted to keep it as a surprise for them.
My parents watched the Fiji game so I rang them after it and told them that I had been offered a contract to come to Melbourne for two years.
Mum was just crying on the phone, they were so happy. I had been allowed to stay in this country, all this hard work had paid off.
From then I just continued to try and build momentum every time I played.
Even though I am still young and learning the whole way, I am going to push myself to next level.
Now I am four months into life as a Melbourne Storm player and really enjoying it.
Even when I was at Parramatta they used to say that Melbourne has a good culture.
When I got here I saw that straight away. The staff, the boys, they are all humble.
That is what I love, I’ve really enjoyed every moment of it and the best thing is, it is only the beginning.