Tui Kamikamica: from Somosomo to Storm

When an 18-year-old Tui Kamikamica landed in Sydney in late 2012 it was the first time the young Fijian had stepped foot in another country. He spoke barely a word of English and had never played a game of rugby league.

It's hard to believe - given his now hulking 195cm, 113kg frame - but weeks earlier he had been scouted by the Parramatta Eels during a rugby union tournament... and was promptly offered a contract as a fleet-footed winger.

"The tournament was one of the main comps in Fiji - to win the under 18s trophy was a big deal. We made the under 18s Grand Final and there was a scout from the Eels there to watch a player from the other team," Tui recalled.

"After the game instead of offering him a contract, he offered me one.

"I was playing at lock because I was skinny back then - I didn't even weigh 80kg and they recruited me as a winger. I was really fast."

Kamikamica grew up in Somosomo, a village on the idyllic Fijian island of Taveuni (around 15km from the mainland), where the only source of electricity was a generator shut off each night at 9pm.

"After 9pm we lived by candlelight - we had no TV and no running water," he said.

"I spent the first 11 years of my life there before we moved to the mainland and I can't imagine a better place to grow up.

"I lived only five metres away from the ocean and I loved fishing and farming and playing footy after school.

"There are no proper football fields - you get pretty good at stepping because you're avoiding holes in the ground."

While he dreamed of representing Fiji in rugby union, league was never on his radar.

"My dad was a union player so as a kid I went with him to training, kicking balls around and I wanted to be like him - I never considered playing rugby league.

"When I was offered the contract at Parramatta I was torn -  I had always dreamed of representing Fiji and playing professional rugby union but I understood that it was a huge opportunity.

"It was a big step for me to be honest. English was my second language and I had never left Fiji."

He arrived in Sydney during the Eels pre-season and had to adapt quickly.

"Pretty much all I understood was yes or no. The first day at training they were explaining drills to me and I was thinking 'I have no idea'

"The coaches would say 'Tui do you understand' and I'd go 'yep, yep' but I didn't have a clue what they were saying."

"The first trial games were a huge learning curve. I played under 20s that year and I was still learning the game.

"I was living with a guy from Brisbane - Boyd Russell - and every month his family would send down kangaroo meat. We would gym together twice a day, I'd eat five meals, we were smashing the steaks.

"I would drink a protein shake with every feed - by the end of 2013 I was 100kg."

After a year with the Eels feeder team in the New South Wales Cup, Tui signed with the Canberra Vikings, hoping to ultimately secure a Super Rugby contract.

"I moved to Canberra to pursue union again but I wasn't enjoying my footy."

"I was disappointed because I'd invested three years in league and I quickly realised union wasn't the right path for me.

"I contacted one of my uncles who lives in Brissy and said 'do you know any club up there looking for a prop?'

"He said 'I'll call Trigger' (Craig Ingebrigtsen) who was the coach of Easts Tigers at the time and would soon be the coach for the Sunshine Coast Falcons.

"I paid for my own flight to Brisbane to chat to Trigger.

"As soon as I heard they were the feeder club for Melbourne Storm I thought - this is it, I need to play here."

"I went back to Canberra and said, 'I'm done' and I just took off. I packed my bags and left for Brissy.

"My manager wasn't happy with me and said 'you'll end up back in Fiji in a year's time' and I thought 'I'll prove you wrong'."

Kamikamica lived in Springfield Lakes, a 40 minute drive to Brisbane and two hours from the Sunny Coast.

"I would drive two hours to training and two hours home."

"I could only stay in Australia with an NRL contract - I was on a working visa so it was the only way I could stay. It was huge motivation.

"Our last trial game against Burleigh Bears was on a Saturday and my visa was up on the Wednesday of that week, so the pressure was on.

"We went to court and tried everything we could do to my extend my visa - I was ready to book my flight back to Fiji.

"When I got the call to let me know my visa was approved for another three months I had tears in my eyes and it was more motivation to play well."

After establishing himself as a power forward and playing seven games for the Falcons, Kamikamica was selected to represent Fiji.

"It is every Fijian kid's dream to don the white jumper and play for Fiji. My mum and dad were so happy.

"I played against Juzzy (Justin Olam), he made his debut for PNG in the Pacific Test as well.

"Around the same time I received a phone call from the Storm, they wanted to sign me up for two years - it was all happening at once."

In May of 2016 Tui earned a full time contract at Melbourne Storm and he made his NRL debut the following year.

"The culture here is next level. Everyone at this club is the best in the business."

"I was lucky to have my mum and my sister in the crowd for my debut - it was amazing."

"I was able to buy my family a house back home on the mainland and I have purchased a kava farm for my family. I started planting in 2017 so I'll start harvesting at the end of next year.

"It's all about giving back. I know how my parents struggled so I want to be able to give back to my family."

2019 was a breakout year for Tui - he surged to 21 appearances this season after playing just five first grade games in 2018 and took out the club's Most Improved Player at the Ned Whisky Player of the Year Awards.

"My goal now is just to play consistent footy - we have good depth at the Storm so my main goal is just to be consistent every week in my attack and defence."

 

Quotes taken from Fuelled by Fire: Episode 15.

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