150th anniversary: Life bans for code hoppers

Rugby players during the fi rst trial at Buckhurst Park to select a Fiji team to play against the Maoris in 1964. Picture: FILE

Being disqualified from playing rugby in Fiji and for Fiji would be a tragedy for any aspiring rugger.

But that’s exactly what happened in 1964 when three leading Fijian rugby players, all members of the Fiji Military Forces, were banned for life.

This happened when they signed professional contracts to play rugby league for the Yorkshire Rugby League team in Hudderfield, England, in 1964.

The three players – Jo Saukuru, Tomasi Naidole and Jone Ravitale – left Fiji for England on July 16, 1964.

They were released by the FMF after they were first approached by a representative of the Hudderfield Rugby League Club at the Grand Pacific Hotel earlier that year.

The trio’s local disqualifications were over professional misconduct and were subsequently banned from all forms of rugby in Fiji.

They were not even allowed to play for Army.

Saukuru and Naidole were tipped to play for Fiji during its tour of Wales and France in the latter part of 1964.

In an interview shortly after their disqualification, they told The Fiji Times of July 6, 1964, they would not have signed papers had they known it would cause trouble.

“Early this year, in the company of Tomasi Naisole and Jone Ravitale, I was involved in what we understand was an offer from the English Rugby League,” said Saukuru, the three men’s spokesperson.

“As a result of this, my friends and myself were brought before the Suva Rugby Union and in May our club was informed that we were no longer eligible to play rugby union. I understand that the union made inquiries with the Welsh Union before taking this action against us.

“Furthermore, we understand that they did not permit us to play within the Army though the law permits this even for professional league players.”

The trio were saddened by the Fiji Rugby Union’s decision .

“The three of us have enjoyed playing rugby, especially with our club. We give our best wishes to rugby and to our club and former teammates and opponents.

“We wish the best to the players chosen to tour Wales and France and we only regret that we were forced to look for another code.”

Saukuru, who was a corporal in the Army, was captain of Fiji’s gold medal winning team in the South Pacific Games and played against Australia in Fiji’s rugby tour of 1954.

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