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Waqa a footballing legend

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RUSIATE Waqa was a diamond in the rough during school football days in Ba.

But his relocation to Nadi had him horned his skills and for over a decade, 77-89, was lauded as the best forward in the country.

The former district and national team forward’s contribution to the sport remains unparalleled.

“I started playing football during school years between 73-75, at Ba’s Xavier College”, he said.

“I relocated to Nadi College in 1976”.

And it’s here that he grew into the sport.

He admitted though, while at Xavier College he was approached by Ba coach Sashi Mahendra Singh to play for the district.

Ba’s stardom lure as being the habitual Inter District Championship winning side didn’t excite him.

“I had no desire to play for Ba, I was a Nadi guy and that was all to it”.

Singh, a penchant for making things happen, majority of the time for his district was left to rue the opportunity years on.

For Waqa loyalty to Nadi mattered the most.

He was identified as a district prospect in 1977 by Bobby Tikaram, a then former Nadi executive during a Sunday club fixture with Tanoa FC.

In just a few strong outings during the National Football League games in 77’, Waqa had established himself as a thorn of a forward, scoring goals seemingly at will.

The break though came a week after Waqa was dropped from selection over Amani Pele Rokodrea and Anand Raman for an away Sunday league against Suva.

Bobby said Waqa was very disappointed and had left the team.

“I had this feeling Waqa had lost all interest, and may not consider returning”, he said.

“I made an effort to go to his village and convinced him to make the trip at my cost, I didn’t feel like him being left back”.

Bobby said coach Mani Naicker included him for the home against Ba and did Waqa ever made a grand debut scoring a natural hat-trick.

There on, the forward had cemented his place in the regular district lineup.

Bobby said Waqa brought his best game day in and out, better yet the A- game against Ba.

That, in the inaugural Battle of the Giants soccer tournament in 1978, he skirted defender Jone Nakosia’s intended back pass to Bale to score the game winner before the diehard Ba fans at Govind Park.

Waqa said he was being labeled as a traitor in some quarters as he stood down Ba break.

Singh held no ill will towards the Nadi forward but praised his efforts.

“Among all the district fans, Singh walked up to me and gave me the congratulatory handshake”.

District foe and Ba’s former goalkeeping great, Bale Raniga reckons Waqa eclipsed as being the best forward for a good decade (77-88).

“Waqa, was fearsome, great striker and awesome finisher”, said Raniga, who was between the sticks during Ba’s all-conquering 75-80, 6 in a row Inter District Championship wins.

“He was in a league of his own, give him an inch he will go a mile”.

Waqa’s scintillating form had him make the national team, teaming up in the forward position with Ba’s Inia Bola, Lautoka’s Epeli Ragavatu Kosa and Sam Work, and Rewa’s Mohammed Salim.

The quintet played in the position for many international friendlies and World Cup elimination matches at home and on tours.

He was every national coaches’ delight, the marksman was top bet for Mani Naicker, Mike Thoman, Sashi Mahendra Singh and Rudi Gutendof’s starting lineup.

“It was always an honour to play under the great Fijian coaches, Mani, Thoman, Singh and Rudi.

“These coaches commanded lot of respect; they perfected my game”.

Sadly, all four coaches have passed away said Waqa.

While the forward assassin made news for his footballing, the one news that sent shockwaves ahead of the 80’ IDC was when he alongside district teammate, Stan Morrel were semi buried under a trench in Lomo Lomo, Lautoka while laying water main-pipe leading to Vaturu Water Dam by contractors, Hornybrook -Theis and Leighton (HTL) group.

“Stan and I were very lucky to have survived, our third partner was not as lucky”, recalled Waqan.

“It was the quick-thinking crew that dug us out or else we both would have been dead”.

Waqa’s title haul include 4 Battle of the Giants (B.O.G), 78, 80, 83 and 86, and 6 National League titles, 78,80-83 and 85.

From a purely sporting perspective, one of the great injustices of his career was the Lloyd Farebrother, IDC trophy deprived him.

Though the 1-0 loss to Ba in the 80’ IDC final at Govind Park and the controversial 82’ final at the Prince Charles Park are the closest his dream team came to put a claim on the prestigious silverware.

Waqa’s district switch to Lautoka in 88’ was work related, where he made instant mark with the Blues helping them win the league title the very year, where he opted to playing more as a midfielder.

“Waqa analyzed the game and got a feel for an opponent’s defensive setup, used his speed before putting them to the sword in a flash”, said Raniga.

At 63 years of age, the former goal scoring icon regarded as one of the finest footballers of his generation and who contributed so much for the beautiful game lives a simple life in Salovi, Nadi.

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