Fiji team arrive in Bolton ahead of Rugby League World Cup
Buy this photo » WELCOME One of the Fiji players is greeted by young members of the Westhoughton Lions and Bolton Mets as they arrive at the Bolton Whites Hotel
YOUNG fans and schoolchildren turned out to give Fiji’s rugby league World Cup team a rousing Bula to Bolton — the Fijian for hello.
The 24-man squad and support staff will be based at the Bolton Whites Hotel at the Reebok Stadium for their opening two group games before moving to Hull on November 7 ahead of their match with England.
Players from West-houghton Lions and Bolton Mets were joined by a special choir from St James Daisy Hill Primary School to greet the players.
Cllr Anthony Connell, Bolton Council’s cabinet member for sport, said the tournament was an ideal opportunity to promote Bolton as a rugby league area.
The nine children in the choir, aged eight to 11, were chosen from 72 who auditioned and gave a stirring rendition of Jerusalem as one of their three songs.
In thanking the pupils, Fiji’s players responded by singing the prayer song they perform before every match.
The council has previously worked with the Fiji team, who will take coaching sessions for youngsters and visit schools during their time in the town.
The team also gave free tickets to the choir for their first group game with Ireland in Rochdale. Fiji’s squad had travelled from Catterick Garrison, where they had been training. While most of the squad play in Australia, the trip to England is the first out of Fiji for some of the team.
Their manager, Rick Stone, said: “We’re delighted to be here and we received a very warm welcome.
“We will try to get into the community as much as we can and, on the pitch, get at least to the last eight. Once you get out of the group, the tournament opens up and you never know how far teams might get.”
Cllr Connell said: “Bolton is not really a leading rugby league town, although we have staged internationals here before, so to attract the Fiji team is fantastic and we hope it has a knock-on affect.”
Neil Hart, the former chairman of Westhoughton Lions, was integral to organising the Fijian visit and said: “It’s quite a coup for us to have a side like Fiji, in the top six in the world, based in Bolton.
“They have assured me they will do everything they can while they are here to help us out. They are not simply here to play rugby and go home.”
Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside said: “It’s always fascinating to see elite sportsmen from other sports, and doubtless our lads and theirs will share experiences and training methods.”
A crowd of about 100 people crowded into the hotel reception to watch the St James Daisy Hill children sing to the players and music teacher Helen Taylor was proud of their efforts. They did really well,” she said.
“It can be daunting when there’s only a small group of you but they were fantastic.”
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