This Women in League Round, meet one of the Parramatta Eels’ new NRLW signings, Sereana Naitokatoka, who despite her age is inspiring the next generation.
When Sereana Naitokatoka and her Fiji Bulikula teammates ran onto the field against Papua New Guinea at Campbelltown Stadium in June 2019, they were creating history.
Just 18 at the time, the new Parramatta Eels NRLW playmaker started at halfback in the 28-0 win, which was Fiji’s first Test Match.
“The whole week at camp was definitely unreal. They were really welcoming,” Naitokatoka said.
“When game day came around, I was nervous. I felt like I forgot that I even had to go play because it was such a great vibe in the camp.
“We got on the bus and as soon as we got there, I saw the PNG girls. I’d only seen them on TV where they looked small, but when we got close, Elsie Albert (PNG captain) was so big!
“We stood there and sang the national anthem and I didn’t even want to sing it, I couldn’t sing it, every time I’d say a word I’d cry.
“It was the best feeling standing there singing the national anthem.”
Four months later and Naitokatoka was back in Fiji inspiring the next generation of women’s rugby league stars.
The Bulikula played the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII in Suva and pushed them all the way, going down 22-14 in a tight contest.
But what happened off the field that week is something Naitokatoka will never forget.
Despite being so young herself, Naitokatoka and her teammates were inspiring the next generation of young Fijian girls to follow their dreams.
As part of their time in camp, they visited local primary school students who couldn’t wait to cheer on the team on TV.
“It was so crazy, they were all saying ‘I’m going to watch your game’.
“I know a lot of people back home look up to me. I even got chased in Fiji because they know me.”
Naitokatoka and her family moved to Sydney from Fiji when she was young and it didn’t take her long to find out about rugby league.
“The only thing I knew about was Sevens because for Fijians, it’s all about Sevens.
“Then when I moved here, when I went to Primary School, everyone was going for the Broncos or Bulldogs and I was like ‘what is this?’. We started watching it at home and I was like ‘this is cool’. My brother gave it a crack at the local team… and I joined him.”
Despite being two years younger, Naitokatoka played in the Under 11’s division with her brother and continued playing until she was no longer allowed to play against the boys.
She played for her school team in the meantime and by the time she reached Under 15’s she was back on the field with Canley Heights and then Guildford before playing Tarsha Gale Cup for the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Naitokatoka has spent the past two seasons at Mounties in the NSW Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership before signing with the Eels for her first NRLW season in 2021.
“First when I got the call, I couldn’t believe it to be honest. I’m so excited and I can’t wait to get together with the team.
“We actually have a really good thing going on. Sometimes when we are on Zoom, even though we’ve never met, we still have a laugh like we’ve known each other for a while so that’s pretty good.”
Naitokatoka is a student of the game and while she doesn’t have a favourite team, she is always learning.
“Any game that comes up where I know they have good players or halves in it you want to watch. And when they make a good move I’ll be like ‘I want to do that or I’m going to try that’.
“The day I saw the video of Maika Sivo when everyone was calling his name I was literally like ‘oh my god I want that one day’.”
Round 22 of the Telstra Premiership is Women In League Round, with the theme this year being Play Your Part.
Naitokatoka’s advice for young girls playing rugby league is to remember their goals and why they started.
“Everyone has a vision in their head of what they want, so every time you want to give up or you don’t want to train, just bring that up into your head because you know you have something to work for.”