IT has been nearly a decade since Seva Rokobaro played alongside superstars Johnny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau at French high-flyers Toulon.
That experience - learning from the world's best - remains one of the highlights of the Fijian lock's career.
"You can see and understand why they get to that level," Rokobaro said. "You can't go past Johnny Wilkinson. Players like that behave a certain way. It is all about game day and how you look after your body."
But it was the connections Rokobaro made two years prior at French third-division club Pergueux that have provided the drive for the near 42-year-old to be still competing - and starring - for the Hunter Wildfires.
Rokobaro will start at lock against Sydney University at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday - an incredible 18 years after he made his Shute Shield debut for Gordon.
"I had a couple of friends I played with in France who passed away because of unhealthy living," he said. "This is the only way I know for me to stay active and keep ticking. Diet and living healthy are my biggest things. Without proper conditioning, you can't enjoy the game. I love the game. It's hard to let it go."
After playing off the bench in round-one, Rokobaro added steel, power and experience to the second-row in the 46-11 loss to Eastwood - one of three Shute Shield clubs he played at before moving to Newcastle in 2015.
He was a rock behind Nick Dobson on the tight head side of the scrum, rushed up out of the line to put shots on in defence and carried the ball forward.
The Wildfires trailed Eastwood only 13-11 when he was replaced after 52 minutes.
"There are no short cuts," the 120-kilogram, 195cm man mountain said. "I have played a fair bit in the second row and know what is needed to stabilise the scrum. There is a process you have to follow. We have a young side, an exciting side, and you have to show them that little bit of confidence. That builds character."
Wildfires boss Scott Coleman has coached Rokobaro since 2015 and is constantly blown away by his work ethic.
"His will to compete is unbelievable," Coleman said. "He is an interstate truck driver and can't get to training some nights. He will drive from here to Melbourne and instead of resting, he will go to a gym or go for a jog. After a game he is at Merewether baths at 6pm for recovery.
"On the field he is forever lifting the bar. You give him a challenge and he accepts it and then says 'give me more'. His last eight years have been as a loose forward. To be thrown into the second row on the tighthead side of the scrum and handle that pressure and still have a high number of ball carries is phenomenal."
Coleman has made four changes to the side which held Eastwood to 13-11 for 55 minutes before going down 46-11.
Phil Bradford starts at hooker for Chris Ale (torn calf), Pernell Filipo replaces Taulogo Lalaga (hamstring) at inside centre and Brendan Holliday switches from fly-half to fullback to cover Chad Northcott (work). Connor Mulhearn is the new No.10 and Sitiveni Waqa has been rewarded for a man-of-the-match effort in second grade in the win over Eastwood with a spot on the side of the scrum. Lachy Miller drops out.
Rokobaro moved from Fiji to Australian in 2001 to play for St Ives in the Sydney Suburban competition. He joined Gordon a year later and spent three season at the Highlanders, from where he was selected to play four Tests for Fiji in 2004-05.
After four years in France (2008-2012), Rokobaro returned to Sydney and when he left Parramatta for Hamilton in 2015, he thought his Shute Shield days were done.
"To get this opportunity for me, is exciting," he said. "It's a good thing not only for me, but the region. It introduces the players to the next level of rugby. Having to go up against quality opponents makes them better players.We have faced two teams who play a different style of football. This will be different again. Sydney Uni are all about grinding and wearing teams down. They are very precise. Their execution is near flawless. We have to play the whole 80 minutes and not give them cheap possession."
Wildfires: 1 Dave Puchert, 2 Phiil Bradford, 3 Nick Dobson, 4 Adam Edwards, 5 Seva Rokobaro, 6 Shawn Ingle, 7 Sitiveni Waqa, 8 Ben Ham, 9 Mahe Fangupo, 10 Connor Mulhearn, 11 Buserau, 12 Pernell Filipo, 13 Hayden Cole, 14 Nimi Qio, 15 Brendan Holliday, 16 Steve Lamont, 17 Dave Waller, 18 Daniel Davies, 19 Alec Corcoran, 20 Piers Morrell, 21 Marlon Solofuti, 22 Charles Fielder, 23 TBC
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