ANTHONY Partridge knew the rugby would be spectacular. It was the individual stories - and sacrifices - of Singleton's new legion of Fijians which blew the Bulls stalwart away.
The Bulls, inspired by the flair and fancy footwork of Sili Are Jnr and Aborosa Goneboti, took out the Country division of the Mick 'Whale' Curry Memorial Sevens at St John Oval last Saturday.
Flying machine Sili Are Jnr crossed for seven tries in the tournament, including two in the 27-14 triumph over Hamilton in the final.
Are Jnr and Goneboti were among six-to-eight Fijian players Singleton had hoped would bolster the Bulls as part of the club's involvement in the Pacific Labour Scheme - a program designed to help regional businesses maintain employee levels.
Never in Partridge's wildest dreams did he expect 34 Fijians to touch down in town and 22 to join the Bulls.
In 2019, Singleton partnered with a local business to tap into the Pacific Labour Scheme. Applicants for the scheme in Fiji had to sit an interview, pass a medical and satisfy other criteria.
Through rugby recruitment agent Ryan Dunnett Singleton, identified 10 potential recruits and invited them to apply for the scheme.
The outbreak of COVID-19 last March put the program on hold. When a charted flight finally arrived from Fiji last month, it had 175 men and women onboard, who filtered out across regional Australia.
"Hundreds of people went for interviews," Partridge said. "In Fiji the unemployment rate is 50 per cent due to the halt in tourism and the average wage is $2.50 an hour.
"If we were lucky, we thought six or eight might end up in Singleton. In the end 34 arrived here and most of them are rugby mad.
"I have spent a lot time with them to help them settle in. Forget about the footy. There is a guy here who is a year older than me, has three kids the same age as my kids and he has flown to Australia for three years to earn money to send back to the family.
"Everyone has a story like that. There is a lady who has left an 18-month-old baby in Fiji. No-one is earning money over there.
"A few have played overseas before at different levels. For quite a few of them, it is the first time they have left Fiji. For some of the younger players, it is the first time they have had a paying job.
"They are such good people. Trying to get across their culture has been great.
"It will be a challenge to manage. Some haven't played rugby for two or three years. Of the 34 only three have a driver's licence."
Singleton have recruited Fijians in the past.
Mosese Voka lit up Hunter rugby union in 2009. He was the joint winner of the Anderson Medal before returning home and going on to represent Fiji and lead them to the National Rugby Championship in 2018.
"The first day there were here, we took them to the rugby club and showed them the picture of Mosese," Partridge said. "Their eyes nearly popped out of their head. They couldn't believe he played here. It would be fantastic, if one of them went on to bigger and better things."
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