Dad's final offering an inspiration for Botiki

Peni Botiki does his best to send money home to his family in Fiji. Picture: GREG TOTMAN
Peni Botiki does his best to send money home to his family in Fiji. Picture: GREG TOTMAN


Moments before launching himself into the fray, Peni Botiki will track down his phone. It's always 'credit ready' on game day.

He'll dial the Fijian number of his father, the one who used to save for weeks on end to buy his son football boots, and they'll pray.

"Even though they can't watch, I'm trying my best for them to be here," said Botiki, set to be a revelation with the Illawarra Cutters in the NSW Cup this season. "The last words before I jump on the field ... dad usually gives me."

And then Botiki does what he always wanted to do, skittling defenders with ball in hand and trying to make sure they don't run at him again in defence.

That the Fijian World Cup representative is now a member of St George Illawarra's feeder team is no fluke.

Botiki, the middle of five children, grew up in his grandma's village playing for the Saru Dragons, of course inspired by their NRL namesakes.

That was until the chance came to move to Australia and the Illawarra Coal League. He went from University to Collies and after a couple of years of trialling has impressed so much to be drafted into the Cutters squad proper this year.

But they would probably be minor details in the Botiki story.

"It was so hard when you leave your family for the first time," he said. "I remember when I came here I just had two shorts, two T-shirts and thongs - nothing else.

"My family is so humble and don't have much, but I'm here and I'm so happy to make it and help my family back home.

"What keeps me going is remembering where I grew up. I remember back in the village if one of my mates would buy some boots and the rest of the boys didn't have any we would share them in games.

"What we face here is not really hard compared to back home. The most important thing for me is to send some money to my family."

Vaulting straight from the Illawarra Coal League to play in a World Cup, alongside players you've idolised like Petero Civoniceva and Gerringong's Ashton Sims, is no mean feat.

Botiki did it last year alongside his brothers from the Fiji Bati.

Who knows? One day his family back home might get to watch their boy on television after praying.

"I used to be a kid watching the NRL and I'm climbing that ladder."