Semi Tadulala is a former professional Rugby league and Rugby Union player who has represented his home country of Fiji on the International stage. Semi played in his first ever Rugby League World cup in 2000 in England and 8 years later would again represent Fiji in a World cup, in a remarkable run which saw Fiji go all the way to the Semi Finals before finally losing out to Australia, with Semi scoring two tries during the tournament. He played Rugby League in the Australian NRL for Melbourne Storm and also in the English Super League for the Bradford Bulls and the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. Semi then went on to play Rugby Union for Gloucester and Leeds Carnegie before again representing Fiji as a Union player as well.
Semi grew up on the island of Fiji and like many Fijians he grew up in a Christian family. He grew up with his Father who was a Pastor and his Mother, with 2 brothers and a sister and although Semi recognises that he was blessed to be brought up with his immediate family, he was quick to mention that there weren’t really any children in his community that grew up without a family or Father figure at all as everyone in the wider Christian community in following the Bible, would act as family to each other, so that every child without parents would be taken in and have someone they could call family and that’s just how things were in every aspect of fijian life, everyone looked out for everyone.
When we asked Semi what his earliest memories of sport were, he told us that he had always loved Rugby and remembers watching the Fiji Rugby Union team on TV from around the age of five and even then, knew that that, was what he wanted to do. He remembers telling everyone that one day he would play for his country but also remembers how everyone would just laugh and never took him seriously. Remarkably He never ever played competitive rugby as a young boy as he wasn’t allowed, there were much more serious things that he needed to be focused on as far as his family were concerned but even so, that didn’t stop him from playing with his friends every day after school, knowing that when he got home he would get a good hiding but for years, he decided it was worth it to be able to play the game he loved.
At the age of 15 his Father decided to move the family to Australia where he was to be a missionary and Semi was able to attend North Rockhampton High School. It was there he was given the opportunity to play competitively after being asked to fill in for someone during a rugby league training session. From there he was given the opportunity to play in one the most prestigious combined schools competitions and after the team won the division and Semi got player of the finals, he was picked up by his first club, the western Reds before moving on to North Queensland Cowboys as a part time player but not yet a professional.
By the time Semi reached the age of 18 he started to become distracted from Rugby, he had begun partying and going out with girls and doing things that really weren’t helping him. As a result he was performing poorly and not always getting the game time he wanted, which led to him feeling that he was being unfairly treated. After that he decided to take a year off to study to be a pilot but then halfway through his pilot’s course he had to make a big decision between being a pilot and Rugby and with the boyhood dream still burning in his heart of representing Fiji one day, he chose the latter.
So now he was back playing in Brisbane Australia for the West Panthers doing what he loved and that’s when his miracle came. Fiji were preparing for the 2000 World cup in England and it really wasn’t yet realistic that Semi could possibly play there. Especially as if you’re not playing in the top grade as a professional, which he wasn’t, you normally would have to go home to Fiji to trial and Semi had not been invited to do so. Out of the blue Semi got a phone call to say “ We want you in the team and you don’t have to come back and trial, your automatically selected, just meet us in Brisbane and we are going to fly you to England. The next thing Semi knew he was playing in the World Cup.
On his return to Australia after moving from Brisbane to the North devils, he moved onto Melbourne, where he finally played Top grade for the Storm in the NRL and although at that point, he recognised that he really should have given it his all he didn’t and simply took everything for granted. The fact was, he admits he was just happy to participate and wasn’t interested in sacrificing and working hard to reach his full potential. He recalled “I’d made my NRL debut I played for Fiji and I was happy with that. I wasn’t giving it my best but then with a year left on my contract I was called in by the coach and told I would be getting released. I was absolutely devastated but I was given another chance when one of my best friends told me he had two offers from England and that I could take up one of the other offers. One of those was for Wakefield Wildcats. I made contact and that’s how I ended up playing in the Super league for them before moving to the Bradford bulls and the rest as they say, is Super league history.”
All in all Semi had a great career and thought things couldn’t get much better but they did, when he was given the opportunity to represent his country, this time in Rugby Union and fulfil that dream God put in his heart as a child as it had always been the Fiji Union team which he had first dreamt of representing. That’s when Semi’s story became even more miraculous. Semi had not even played a club game of Rugby union yet after switching from Rugby league and yet was selected for the Fijian team and the only way he would be eligible, would be if he was in the starting 15 for the first game. The coach knew nothing about him and yet when he arrived on the very first day of training camp, he asked Semi “what exact position do you want to play and when Semi said Winger, he was told “then that’s where you’ll be starting”. That is unheard of in International Rugby and yet his Coach somehow was prompted to take that incredible risk with him, which definitely paid off when Semi helped Fiji to victory in his first ever game.
So it would seem as if everything in life had gone Semi’s way but we know things are never that straight forward and so we asked him to tell us about one of the biggest obstacles we were aware he had overcome . Semi agreed there was one part of his childhood he’d probably rather forget but also knew it was important to tell this part of his story, knowing it might help some of you. He told us that as a young boy he was abused by members outside of his immediate family, namely cousins and family friends. The abuse was never violent and at times it was an almost done in a playful manner but despite that, Semi knew what was happening was wrong. He said “At the time I was being abused, I didn’t understand, I just thought it was normal but also it didn’t feel right. I was scared to tell my Dad because I didn’t think he would believe me. I was the black sheep of the family and often in trouble for telling tales and so felt they would just say I was lying and so it was a secret I kept to myself throughout growing up.
We asked him if he ever struggled with his faith and how he felt about God with what happened to him and this is what he said “As a child I was very distant from God, I believed in him but thought he was somewhere up there in the heavens. we would sing in Sunday school he lives in us but I didn’t really understand that and so I never thought to turn to him for help. I felt like he was always wagging his finger at me because I misbehaved a lot and I thought I might as well just be bad because God is going to punish me anyway. It’s funny, when I was going through my abuse I never ever blamed him as I never thought to ask him to help me anyway and then as I got older, I realised he was helping me anyway, because despite what others did to me, as I grew up I never carried any bitterness and their actions didn’t affect my behaviour. I just always had peace and forgiveness in my heart and eventually became closer to God as an adult partly because of everything I went through and now I know that whenever I need him I just need to ask and he’s there.
At the end of our conversation and hearing about Semi’s awesome journey we asked him what his final message would be and what he would want you guys to learn from his story and here’s what he said. “Don’t ever be happy to just make up the team or make up the numbers, you are here for a purpose and you want to live out the fullness of whatever you’re doing. Whether that’s School, sport or whatever, you want to aim for everything God has for you. Just remember, there’s gold inside of you and it’s inside every child because every child is a child of God whether you know it or not. Never give up and keep taking steps forwards. They might only be small steps but as long as you’re moving they’ll eventually make a big difference in your journey.”