FAITH AND FAMILY: Kitione Saukuru will take the Emerald Tigers to Fiji, with his faith and family.
FAITH AND FAMILY: Kitione Saukuru will take the Emerald Tigers to Fiji, with his faith and family. Matty Holdsworth

Spreading the Tigers gospel

FINDING God and playing sport saved Emerald pastor Kitione Saukuru's life.

It was tough for all young men growing up in Fiji and Saukuru battled with depression and even considered ending it all, but those two things saved him.

Now he will spread his message to generations of young men facing similar circumstances.

"There were times in Fiji where I was so depressed but two things really saved me, going to church and playing rugby," the father to Jese and Sera and husband of Sala, said.

"Every Monday I was so pumped up 'yes, training today'. I would train three times a day and that is what kept me alive. This is what has brought me this far."

He moved to Australia in 1998 and Emerald in 2011, he has played rugby union wherever he goes and more recently league via the Emerald Tigers.

"I was forced out of Rams due to lack of game time and they were playing younger players more which was fine but I wanted to play," he said.

"So I joined Tigers in 2013.

"I am not a league person and when I came I thought I'd stay one season and leave but I haven't. I love the club.

"They are a family and they truly value the lives of the players and when I saw that I knew it was what I wanted."

Saukuru spreads his message through the 3CI Church in Emerald and delivers a sermon about once a month. The Bible, prayer and his own experiences are his inspirations.

This year will be his last in Emerald, as he goes back to his home town of Nadi, taking with him his church and the Tigers.

He plans to start up his own church and club back home.

"I believe there are a lot of similar kids to me in Fiji who are depressed that I can help," he said.

"In our village there is only union but I saw 60 odd players playing touch football every afternoon.

"I asked how many teams there were and there was only one. 60 into one team, fighting for those positions.

"So I thought it would be a good idea to start up a Tigers over there.

"It has also been in my heart for a long time to reach out and be able to make an impact over there, I want to take what I have seen at the Tigers to Fiji.

"I am hoping to find two fine young men and send them over to Emerald to play here for a season.

"That is one of my goals."

The likes of Semi Radradra, Petero Civoniceva and Lote Tuqiri are bucking the union trend and Saukura can build on that.

"We Fijians are very patriotic about one of our own thriving, it just makes us very proud to see them do so well," he explained.

"We would get the coconut and run down the beach and imitate what they were doing, they were our role models.

"Back then it was one of my favourite players in the 70s, Isimeli Batibasaga, he played halfback and was fast like me. I would copy him on the beach.

"I remember watching a game on my dad's shoulders, no TVs back then."

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