Fiji players plan to treat their opening World Cup match against Australia like a semi-final and will use the Pacific Test clash with PNG to help prepare for the Kangaroos.
The Bati have reached the semi-final stage of the past three World Cups and each time they have been eliminated by Australia but this year they face the world champions first up.
However, Fiji will play against PNG on Saturday night in Campbelltown, whereas the Kangaroos are set to enter the tournament without a Test for three years.
After losing to Tonga in their last outing and winning just two of their four Tests since the 2017 World Cup, Pacific nations are no longer intimidated by Australia’s reputation as international heavyweights.
“There is just something there that we end up always playing Australia, but I feel this is going to be the strongest World Cup,” Bati captain Kevin Naiqama said.
“There are so many more players representing their nations and that is what you want to see.
“Growing up as a kid it was always England, Australia and New Zealand as the top three nations.
“But to see what Tonga has been doing on the world stage, also Samoa have such a strong and powerful squad, and with PNG beating Great Britain two years ago just shows it is getting stronger.
“We definitely want to push further than we have and there is a big hurdle there for us - Australia has always been the heavyweight of rugby league - but I feel there is a lot of Fiji talent out there and finally we have the players to choose from.”
Viliame Kikau, who is arguably the most potent backrower in the NRL with Penrith, has been elevated to Bati co-captain and he said Fiji’s goal was to at least qualify for the World Cup final.
“We have got a semi-final coming up in the first game so it will be a big test for us, but you always want to play the best,” Kikau said of the October 15 clash at Leeds
“If Fiji play good in this World Cup, hopefully we can go one better than we did in the last World Cup.”
Kikau said he was honoured to have been appointed co-captain with Naiqama, who retired after helping St Helens to a third consecutive Super League triumph.
Naiqama is now playing for Sydney Roosters and is expected to lead the World Cup squad but Kikau is now regarded as a future Bati captain.
“I don’t know if I have captained any team before in my whole life so I am very honoured to be given the opportunity to lead the boys now,” Kikau said.
“I have played a few games for Fiji and being one of the older boys I am happy to have that leadership role.
“It means a lot to me and my family. They were just so excited and so happy for me. They weren’t really expecting it, I don’t think.”
The Bati will be without Penrith hooker Api Koroisau for the Pacific Test after he was selected in the No.9 jersey for NSW but he is expected to play for Fiji at the World Cup.
Naiqama said the experience players like Koroisau, Tariq Sims, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and the Saifiti twins, Daniel and Jacob, could add to the squad from Origin would be invaluable.
“If there is one fellow we are so proud of it is Api. It is amazing to see the heights he has achieved,” Naiqama said.
“I think he flies under the radar so it is really good to see him selected for State of Origin because he is playing so good and he is arguably one of the best hookers in our game.
“He is a proud Fijian, and as fellow countrymen and friends, we are just happy to see any Fijian achieve that sort of success.
“It is a credit to him because he has been the best hooker for some time now and he deserves the recognition.
“I am just so glad he gets to play Origin but hoping he plays for us in the World Cup.
“Anyone with Origin experience will help our squad and Api has done that; Tariq Sims as well. Reagan has represented our squad in the past and there are others.
“Anytime we can get those boys on board and playing for Fiji it is only going to make our expectations of what we can achieve stronger.”