IT WAS on his 18th birthday that Ratu Naulago’s father told him he needed to leave the family home in Fiji and fly to the other side of the world to join up with the British Army.
Neither could really have expected him to end up playing rugby league for Hull FC along the way, but it is one of the many positive outcomes to stem from that significant decision made a decade ago.
No one in Super League circles had really heard about the Fijian winger until this campaign but they certainly have now.
Having initially joined on a trial basis during the off-season, Naulago is currently firmly established as one of the competition’s most dynamic widemen as he prepares to make his eighth appearance for Hull at Warrington Wolves today.
However, he still lives on the former RAF base in Leconfield near Beverley, is trained as a mortarman in the first battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment and remains part of the British Army.
Naulago has not seen any combat as such and his Hull team-mates call him ‘The Chef’ joking that he simply cooks for the Armed Services.
Still, Steven Seagal’s character did that in Under Siege. And he managed to cause plenty of damage with his firepower.
Naulago is undoubtedly a potent weapon on the pitch with his strong carries out of back-field, electric pace – coach Lee Radford cannot wait for him to get an open field – and some fearsome defence.
When it comes to active service, he explained: “If I got the call to go that’s my job.
“I’d love to do it. If I got the call then I’ll go for it. That’s still the case. I have been to Afghanistan but we were with the Territorials; we were just there for a few weeks and then we went back to Cyprus.
“After two years in Cyprus we got back to where I was. It’s a long story; when I was 18 I left my house back in Fiji to join the Army. My dad wanted me to join the Army as there’s a bit of history between the Fijians and part of the Commonwealth and the British Army.
“It was during my 18th birthday and I had nowhere to go – so he just threw me out.
“I flew over from Fiji in January 2009. It was winter.
“It was really, really shocking for me as back home it was the summer and over 33 degrees and here it was about minus 10!
“I started playing (union) for the Army once I’d done my six months training and passed out from there. That’s how I got in.”
The culture of the Army has helped him adapt to the rugby league environment.
Naulago, 27, said: “Yes, that’s true, especially the way you get treated in training.
“They try and make you learn all the stuff you learn at home – basically discipline and knowing what to do at the right time, to be at the right place – and applying that in training helps me a lot.
“Opportunity comes once in a lifetime so as soon as I got the (trial) opportunity from Radders here I knew this was my opportunity so I took it seriously and showed him I’d grab it.”
He has scored four tries in his seven games so far including a double on a memorable debut in the Golden Point 23-22 win at Wigan Warriors in February.
“First of all, I didn’t know that Radders was going to pick me for that,” he recalled.
“I was a bit emotional and there was a bit of butterflies in there as well. I just tried to think this is a normal game.
“Once I got my first try I could feel the confidence and with the help of the experienced players in the team, too. Every other game now is just a normal game.”
Although the player is contracted with Hull until the end of 2020, the British Army remains his principal employer.
That is why Naulago – who won the Premiership Sevens as a guest player with Saracens last term – was drafted back into their side to face the Royal Navy at Twickenham a fortnight ago.
“I’m in my eighth year now (with the Army) and I’ve signed for 12 years,” he explained.
“I’m really grateful to them for releasing me like this and also supporting me on whichever path I get at this level.
“If I don’t get my future with rugby I’ll just go back to that and finish it. But I’d like to stay with Hull.”
It would be a surprise if he does not soon represent Fiji in rugby league although, with a UK passport, he could just as easily put himself forward for England or Great Britain.
But first comes second-placed Warrington. Hull have unfinished business considering they have lost 63-12 and 80-10 in their last two meetings.
Naulago did not play in either, mind; do not be surprised if he cooks something up.