Hickey is a coaching consultant for the Drua in their maiden NRC season, and it’s fair to say the Fijians have exceeded expectations. In fives games so far, the Drua have beaten Melbourne and both of the 2016 finalists, NSW Country and Perth.
Where Perth and Melbourne are extensions of their Super Rugby programs, the Drua have no professionals. Drawn from the Fijian domestic comp, the team contains farmers, policemen and soldiers and according to Hickey “three or four” had never flown before travelling for the NRC.
“To a degree it has exceeded expectation,” Hickey said.
“It was always a little bit of an unknown for them coming into the competition. All credit to the ARU for issuing them an invitation, because it will be a big step to the development of the game to a higher level in Fiji, and help create a pathway for players in Fiji through to the national side.”
There have been calls for a Pacific Island team to be part of Super Rugby, in whatever shape it takes in future years.
Hickey, who was asked by Fiji Test coach John McKee to help Drua coach Senirusi Seruvakula, said the NRC experience proves it could happen. Home games have drawn 10,000 people.
“I think it can be a step towards that (Super Rugby),” Hickey told us.
“Obviously things have to be in place financially and with management structures and so on, but if we just talk on playing talent, and you look at the players they have overseas and the talent in this group — and there is probably the same amount back in Fiji who haven’t been identified yet — I think it could be a step towards that in two or three years time. The playing talent is there, no doubt about it.”
Hickey will return to his old Eastwood stomping ground on Saturday when Fiji take on the Rams at TG Millner Field. It will be a bumper day of action in the NRC’s Pasifika Round, with the Australian schoolboys playing New Zealand schools as a curtain raiser, and Pasifika games also being played in the morning.
Feeling the strain of their first long campaign, Fiji were beaten heavily by Canberra last week but hope to bounce back against the Rams and push toward a finals spot. They’re currently sitting in fourth.
“Playing finals in the first year, that’d be an amazing achievement,” Hickey said.