Men in the middle
The men are Fiji's Sione Tanoa & Mikea Rokorakia and Fe'ao Nonu from Tonga.
Life with a whistle first started for Sione when he wanted to become a coach, part of the coaching diploma in Fiji is to become a referee first. After he learnt the rules and obtained his coaching level 2 he went back to his district to share his new found skills. Things weren't as rosy as he imagined as most coaches were a lot older than him and nobody was taking him seriously as a coach, so he jumped ship and took to being a ref instead. This has become some ride and Sione says his theory is quite simple "my aim is to help them enjoy it, I love watching a team play especially the courage of a team desperate to win". He also said that his enjoyment is always there too, "they do their part, i do mine and we are both happy at full time".
Focussing on the hardest parts of refereeing for him he said, controlling the off the ball stuff is the challenge, "when we are following the ball some action can go on unseen and they try to trick me, that is where my assistants come in."
Playing representative rugby for Namosi province in Fiji, Mikea was a robust hooker come loosie in Fiji. This career came to a screaming halt with a serious shoulder injury in 2000 & the following year he moved to the centre of the field. His first year was at club level and he quickly moved on to ref provincial games in 2002.
Working exceptionally hard on fitness and getting to know the rules inside out are his top priorities, "my discipline on and off the field is very important." Turning up early to matches & being in control of his own body and feelings is also part of the preparation for this man. "I have to control my emotions, especially under pressure when the crowd and excitement all hit i need to be clear and ready to see." "the other thing is to ensure i am in the right spot to see everything in the tackle area".
To date many memorable games spring to mind but the top one was a PRC match in Samoa this season where Mikea was Ref, this is the highlight now, but the horizon is in his eyes and his aim is to follow the lead of his countryman James Bolabiu and be on the international circuit.
Tongan man Fe'ao has a good friend Eva Mafi, he also happens to be Tonga's number 1 ref & he suggested he comes along to check out this reffing stuff. This was back in 2004 and it has now well and truly hooked this man, he loves the team attitude and the competitive that makes rugby what it is.
Fitness and a good diet are big part's to Nonu's game plan, he trains 5 times a week with running, gym sessions and speed training to ensure he is tip top for the games come saturday. So far his experience as a linesman in the PRC last year is the highlight of his career. This experience has just got more international and he will control an test match in the Oceania qualifiers in the coming days.
These 3 men are a fantastic example of professionalism, just as most guests roll out of the hotel bed and head for breakfast these 3 are just getting back from an hours hard run. They are full on into their ELV rule books and sharing points of views and ideas with each other, in the last test between New Caledonia and Vanuatu their sheer pace was evident and they were indeed on the spot for all the important calls.
These boys are in control and their journey will be very interesting, As Sione nicely put it "Pack your boots, your whistle, your cards & you can go anywhere in thew world".