Newcastle’s Akuila Uate and the Eels’ Semi Radradra, two of the most exciting Fijians to grace a NRL field, will go head-to-head at Parramatta Stadium.
Newcastle winger Akuila Uate is still a young man himself but, on Sunday at Parramatta Stadium, he’ll come up against a booming NRL star who has spent years idolising him.
The NRL has been spoilt by Fijian crowd pleasers for two decades, starting with Canberra’s Noa Nadruku in the early 1990s, who then handed the baton to Brisbane’s Lote Tuqiri.
Uate stormed onto the scene in 2008 and, at 26, has provided the inspiration for the latest Fijian try-scoring sensation, Parramatta’s Semi Radradra.
The pair will clash on Sunday, albeit it from opposite wings, but Eels forward Joseph Paulo won’t be surprised if two of the most blockbusting ball runners in the NRL go looking for each other.
“I think there will be a few smiles but, when they’re running, they won’t be stopping, that’s for sure,” Paulo said.
Radradra, 22, has long looked up to Uate, and he came away from last year’s Rugby League World Cup with an even greater respect for the Knights’ speedster.
Uate might have lost his NSW and Kangaroos jerseys over the past 12 months, but his feats have shown Radradra what can be achieved.
With 94 tries in 125 games, Uate is already the Knights’ record try-scorer and one of the most prolific in NRL history.
Radradra is well on his way with 19 from just 21 games, including 14 from 15 this year.
Fiji surged into the World Cup semi-finals, with Uate starring out wide and Radradra playing a crucial impact role off the bench.
Uate isn’t renowned as a mentor, but Radradra returned from the UK in awe.
“He’s really looked up to Aku; he spoke highly of him after the World Cup,” said Paulo.
“So for him to take on one of his idols, he’ll be playing his best.
“Representing his homeland meant a lot to him and he learnt a lot of stuff of Aku.
“They’re two cannon balls – they’re so hard to tackle. Semi will be really looking forward to the challenge.”
Radradra isn’t the only superstar at the Eels with Fijian heritage – there’s also fullback Jarryd Hayne.
NSW coach Laurie Daley declared Hayne the best player in the game after State of Origin II and his Eels teammates can’t disagree.
Prop Tim Mannah says Hayne is the best fullback in the game, while Paulo labelled him the most gifted and the outright best in the competition on his day.
But after a big last-start loss to Melbourne and key injuries to Nathan Peats and Manu Ma’u, co-captain Mannah says the Eels can’t afford to rely solely on their No.1 if they want to make the finals.
“We’re in a stage as a team that we need everyone across the park turning up,” he said.
“When we play well, it’s because everyone’s doing that.”
Newcastle broke a seven-match losing streak last week against North Queensland and have won eight of their past 10 matches against Parramatta.