Fiji conjure some Marshall magic to combat Aussies

This story was first written for and published by NRL.com.

The Fijian women’s team takes another significant step on their journey in Suva on Friday when they host the powerful Australian Women’s PM’s XIII captained by Karina Brown.

It is just the second time that the Fijian women’s team have played a Test match together, having burst onto the international scene in style in June when they beat PNG Orchids 28-0 at Leichhardt Oval.

One woman making the most of every opportunity with Fiji is Tanika Marshall, who played centre in that inaugural match against the Orchids.

‘I read an article that the Fiji Women’s PM’s XIII would be playing in Fiji in October and wondered how it all worked. How did I put myself forward for selection?” said Marshall.

Fortunately, she was able to get in contact with the coach of the men’s team Brandon Costin, who put her in touch with her current coach Adrian Vowles.

From there, Marshall filled out a form, sent Vowles some video of herself playing and then was notified that she had been selected in the team.

When Marshall got the call that she had been selected, she was on her way to play for Brothers Ipswich, where her team-mates include Ali Brigginshaw and Brittany Breayley.

She describes the feeling as ‘surreal’ and very special to share with her mum, who is of Fijian descent and her dad who is Aboriginal and also played footy for Ipswich.

From there, Marshall went on to experience one of the greatest weeks of her life as the team came together and began preparation for their game against the Orchids.

‘It was the most I had ever felt part of a team. We were so close and we had only been together for five days,” she said.

“We would sit around in a ‘sharing circle’ and explain what got us to this point in our lives. Everyone was so vulnerable and put their heart on the table. I want to cry right now thinking about it.

“Everyone cried at least once every day and we were just so happy and grateful to be around each other.”

The preparation for this game against Australia has been similar. Each day there is a devotion session and the team had their ‘sharing circle’ on Monday.

For Marshall, this vulnerability and willingness to share is a big part of why the team is so close.

One key difference in preparation this time is that the team is in Fiji rather than Australia. Suddenly, the women from Australia are somewhere foreign which has taken some adjustment.

Tanika Marshall is brought down in a tackle while playing for Brothers Ipswich.
Tanika Marshall is brought down in a tackle while playing for Brothers Ipswich.©qrl.com.au

Fortunately, the Fijian people have been very welcoming.

“When we get free time and head down to the shops, everyone asks if we are part of the Fijian women’s team,” she said.

“Everyone is so excited to see us. The men’s team have also included us in everything they do which I think is really important.”

When Marshall looks into the future, she hopes that there will be an opportunity for a Fijian women’s team to play in one of the Australian state-based competitions or perhaps even in the NRLW.

I don’t think this is dreaming too big and it’s clear that the people involved in women’s rugby league in Fiji have huge ambition.

The Australian PM's XIII are greeted on arrival in Fiji.
The Australian PM’s XIII are greeted on arrival in Fiji.©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

There was massive disappointment earlier this year when the teams for the 2021 Women’s Rugby League World Cup were announced and the Fijian women’s team missed out.

Coach Vowles took to Twitter to express this disappointment and many members of the squad expressed how heartbroken they were.

Whilst upsetting to see Fiji miss out, it just demonstrates the pace at which women’s rugby league is growing and how the talent pools are developing across the world.

With continued opportunities for the women from Fiji to play footy and play against other countries, I have no doubt that this can only lead to a bigger talent pool and hopefully inclusion in the 2025 World Cup.

As for Marshall, she feels humbled to be part of Fiji’s emergence.

“I never thought that playing footy would go anywhere. When I first started playing it was only for fun. The opportunity to represent Fiji is a dream come true and I can’t wait for the game on Friday,” she said.