Jacob Saifiti is ready.
With a second full season of NRL under his belt the 21-year-old will be helping to lead the Fijian forward pack at the 2017 World Cup, which kicks off late next month across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
His twin brother and Newcastle Knights teammate Daniel will be on the sidelines having undergone shoulder surgery last week, meaning that Jacob will take on much of the responsibility up front when the Bata meet USA, Wales and Italy in the preliminary rounds.
It’s a task many, especially considering his age, could find quite overwhelming.
However, this time and this tournament provide Saifiti with a stage to shine following on from his 21 appearances in red and blue during the most recent club campaign.
He averaged 82 metres per game and almost 20 tackles. This included making a personal best 198m from 21 runs in a breakthrough 21-14 win against the Dragons at home. Thirty was his match-high tackle tally in a 44-12 loss to Melbourne just three weeks later.
Both performances were produced towards the back end of the year, highlighting his growth and development as a first grader.
With a second full season of NRL under his belt the 21-year-old will be helping to lead the Fijian forward pack."
Combined with the chance to play internationals in a representative squad alongside the likes of Manly’s Apisai Koroisau, Melbourne’s Suliasi Vunivalu and the Roosters’ Eloni Vunakece – let alone lining up against the likes of Australia, New Zealand or England come the big occasions – Saifiti has potential to find another gear and reach the next level.
The experience and exposure can only benefit the rising star and, in turn, the Knights for 2018 and beyond.
This will also be the case for fellow Newcastle siblings Sione and Peter Mata’utia (Samoa) while Italy have the services of incoming recruit Aidan Guerra as well as up and coming talent Jack Johns (son of Matty).
It may not result in the ultimate World Cup glory, but the repercussions will be felt down the track and be there for all to see at McDonald Jones Stadium. And not to mention a few entertaining stories come pre-season training in November.
In the meantime I’m looking forward to helping call the Real NRL decider on 1233 ABC Newcastle this Saturday only four years after I played in the same game for the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs.