Big and agile … the 117-kilogram Taqele Naiyaravaro. Photo: James Alcock
MAKE no mistake about this: weighing in at 117 kilos and standing 190.5 centimetres, Taqele Naiyaravaro is the next big thing of the NRL - in sheer size and bulk, at the very least.
Hailing from tranquil Yasawa Island, a five-hour boat trip away from Fiji's main island, the place where the movie Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields was filmed in the late 1970s and a paradise where the water turns the colour of champagne when it laps the sand, Naiyaravaro is a prime example of the raw materials of power, pace, potential and promise that's being exported to NRL teams in Australasia each season.
Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter and his training staff were aware they had an opportunity to mould the 22-year-old, who stunned them all when he defeated international centre Chris Lawrence in a 30-metre sprint, then excelled in a series of agility tests. He has proven to be as strong as a bull in the gymnasium and on the paddock.
Potter, who did not want to build up the quietly spoken, ever-smiling Naiyaravaro before he was ready, said it was hard to avoid three points when the club's monster from the Blue Lagoon was raised.
''He's 117 kilos, he's very fast and powerful and he has some figures that make you sit up and take notice,'' he said. ''If we can transfer them into rugby league we'll have a player on our hands. His agility is quite surprising. Normally the bigger players don't have good agility and they know they have to work on it, but his is more than exceptional … very fleet of foot for such a big guy.''
He's raw, despite playing in last year's NSW Cup grand final loss to Newtown, but Potter said one advantage was that Naiyaravaro understood the game and that his skills were good.
''We have fundamentals to work with,'' Potter said of the former National Youth Competition team's centre. ''He's quite good at handling the ball and passing and he has a good sense of the game. We're not in the situation where he is a quick guy being exposed to rugby league for the first time.
''It's a matter of a few subtleties and those situation things you introduce to players at training. He'll pick them up and we want him to be in a position where he puts himself in contention for a first-grade berth.''
Potter said experience had taught him to not get overly excited about the glimpses of promise in the pre-season. Instead, he said it was more beneficial to ensure the players, rookies and veterans, regularly hit targets.
''There are certain aspects of preseason training you want the guys to reach, little goals and the like. You keep raising the bar and when they hit them you get excited but you can't afford to fall over yourself and feel as though these kids will be geniuses and will do this and do that. But it is exciting for the club to have a great crop of great, young players.''
Potter, who took over from Tim Sheens, said he was happy to retain the programs that had brought a number of young first graders through the ranks, including Naiyaravaro's flying Fijian running mate, Marika Koroibete, who thrilled Wests Tigers supporters with his raids and breathtaking tries last season.
''There were some people here before me who implemented some programs that were conducive to [young players being successful],'' he said. ''I've come in on the back of some good work set up by the previous people and people who are still there and continuing with good work.''
The Wests Tigers strength and conditioning coach Luke Portese said the mighty Fijian reminded him of another wrecking ball, but there was a twist. ''He's like T-Rex [Canterbury's Tony Williams] but he's faster,'' Portese said. ''He's just so big and fast.''
Naiyaravaro, who was signed to the Wests Tigers when he moved to New Zealand two years ago, said ''nature'' and running for his school in Suva had helped his blistering speed.
''I ran for the track team at school but I think it is just natural,'' he said. ''I was sent to Suva from Yasawa to go to school but I found I loved playing rugby union and running the 100 and 4x100-metre relay. I played in New Zealand for a year and it was there that I got signed by the Wests Tigers''
While he is hungry to play first grade, Naiyaravaro was working hard to cut down on a healthy appetite to streamline his physique and then challenge for a first-grade berth.
It would be a mistake to think he was beefy, however. He's rock solid and ready to throw his frame into the fray, but if he has learnt one thing during pre-season under Potter it is one poignant message.
''I know I have to work hard, very hard, to make it,'' he said.