The 24-man squad was announced by Fiji Minister for Youth and Sports Laisenia Tuitubou after the Battle of the Bati match between Fiji Residents and Overseas teams at ANZ Stadium on Saturday, which finished in a 16-all draw.
Nabua Broncos fullback Etuate Bola broke down in tears after being named as the standby player for a squad which includes 18 NRL players, two from Super League and one each from the NSW Cup, UK Championship league, Illawarra and the Fiji domestic competition.
Hayne, arguably the most well-known rugby league player in the world, will pull on a Bati jersey for the first time since the 2008 World Cup, while the Fiji squad boasts the NRL’s most prolific try scorer of the past two seasons in Vunivalu.
Naiqama (Wests Tigers), Koroisau (Manly), Korbin Sims (Brisbane), Ashton Sims (Warrington), Akuila Uate (Manly), Eloni Vunakece (Sydney Roosters), Kane Evans (Sydney Roosters), Junior Roqica (London Broncos) and James Storer (Port Kembla) are the survivors from the last 2013 World Cup.
Bati coach Mick Potter said he had chosen Nabua Broncos centre Pio Seci after watching his performance in the Battle of the Bati against an Overseas team comprised of players who had played less than eight NRL or Super League games this season.
Among them were Vunakece, Roqica, Storer, South Sydney centre Sitivene Mocedreke, Canberra winger Mikaele Ravalawa, Mounties five-eighth Henry Raiwalui, Gold Coast Ben Nakubuwai, St George Illawarra’s Taane Milne and former Roosters, Storm and Raiders star Sisa Waqa.
“Pio I think does a lot of things right, he saved a try for his team, he was involved in another as far scoring,” Potter said after the team announcement.
“HE DOES THINGS FOR HIS TEAM-MATES AROUND HIM. HE DOES HIS JOB BUT HE ALSO HELPS HIS TEAM-MATES AROUND HIM AND THAT FOR ME IS THE EPITOMY OF WHAT WE NEED IN THE FIJI BATI.”
Hayne and other NRL stars who did not play in the Battle of the Bati will travel to Fiji on Sunday to prepare for next weekend’s Tri-Series against Australia and Papua New Guinea in Suva.
The Bati have qualified for the semi-finals of the last two World Cups and are aiming to advance to the final at RLWC2017.
“It is a big challenge so to come away with some points is very important for us,” Potter said.
“We are looking to stiffen up our defence and move into the World Cup rounds with some confidence,” Potter said.
Fiji will be based in Townsville for their opening two World Cup matches against United States on 28 October and Wales on 5 November before travelling to Canberra to meet Italy on 10 November.
Fiji Bati Rugby League World Cup 2017 Squad
1. Kane Evans - Sydney Roosters
2. Salesi Faingaa - Parramatta Eels
3. Jarryd Hayne - Gold Coast Titans
4. Tui Kamikamica - Melbourne Storm/ SC Falcons
5. Villiame Kikau - Penrith Panthers
6. Apisai Koroisau - Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
7. Joe Lovadua - St George-Illawarra Dragons
8. Henry Raiwalui - Mounties RLFC
9. Taane Milne - St George-Illawarra Dragons/ Illawarra RLFC
10. Sitiveni Moceidreke - South Sydney Rabbitohs/ North Sydney Bears
11. Marcelo Montoya - Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
12. Kevin Naiqama (C) - Wests Tigers
13. Ben Nakubuwai - Gold Coast Titans/ Tweed Heads Seagulls
14. Mikaele Ravalawa - Canberra Raiders
15. Junior Roqica - London Broncos
16. Jacob Saifiti - Newcastle Knights
17. Ashton Sims - Warrington Wolves
18. Korbin Sims - Brisbane Broncos
19. Pio Seci - Nabua Broncos
20. James Storer - Port Kembla Blacks
21. Akuila Uate - Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
22. Eloni Vunakece - Sydney Roosters/ Wyong Roos
23. Suliasi Vunivalu - Melbourne Storm
24. Brayden Wiliame - Catalans Dragons
25. Etuate Bola - Nabua Broncos
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