Rick Stone will coach Fiji

FIJI COACH: Rick Stone
FIJI COACH: Rick Stone

KNIGHTS assistant coach Rick Stone will coach Fiji in the 2013 rugby league World Cup.

The Fiji National Rugby League are yet to make a formal announcement about the position but the Newcastle Herald has been told Stone got the nod from a short list of four.

The Herald understands the unsuccessful candidates were former Penrith forward Jo Rabele, who coached Fiji to the Centenary World Cup semi-finals in 2008 when he was known as Joe Dakuitoga, former New Zealand Test representative Richie Blackmore, and Dave Woods, an English-based Australian who has coached Castleford, Gateshead and York.

Stone will begin his official association with Fiji as technical adviser for their brief tour of Papua New Guinea. He will fly out of Sydney today to join the Bati touring party, led by interim coach Rabele and FNRL general manager Steve McLellan, and oversee the team’s performances in Tests against the Kumuls on the next two Saturdays.

After becoming familiar with the players from the Fijian domestic competition, who will form the bulk of the squad for the PNG tour, Stone will take the reins next year for end-of-season internationals.

He will be in charge for the World Cup in England and Wales at the end of 2013, when Fiji’s squad will be bolstered by National Rugby League players like Knights utility back Wes Naiqama, who captained the Bati at the 2008 World Cup in Australia.

Stone hoped the likes of seasoned Australian internationals Petero Civoniceva and Lote Tuqiri, who were born in Fiji, would also be available to represent the Bati.

‘‘I’m going as technical adviser on this little trip, just to look at some locals play and some fringe players coming out of Sydney, and get a little bit of an idea of where they’re at,’’ Stone said.

‘‘This will help me have a look at them play, talk to their officials and staff about the build-up to next off-season where we’ll play some games, and a one-off Test against New Zealand, and obviously building up to the World Cup at the end of the 2013 season.

‘‘I’ll find out more about everything when I meet up with them on this trip.

‘‘I’m looking forward to seeing how they go, how they prepare themselves, what structures are in place and what infrastructure is needed as they build up to a big competition.’’

Stone, who began working on Monday as an assistant to new Knights head coach Wayne Bennett, said the Fijian appointment would not detract from his duties in Newcastle.

He said he had the blessing of Bennett, Knights owner Nathan Tinkler, chief executive Matt Gidley and Hunter Sports Group chief executive Troy Palmer.

‘‘It’s not going to interfere with my NRL commitments here at all,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve had a good chat to Wayne about it, and I’ve spoken to Nathan, Gidsy and Troy Palmer, and all those blokes understand. Wayne’s pretty supportive of international footy and developing coaches as well, so it’s a good bit of recognition, I suppose.’’

Stone believed he made a good impression on McLellan and Fijian players and staff when the Knights played the Bati in a pre-season trial at Ausgrid Stadium in February.