School choir welcomes Fiji rugby league stars to Bolton ahead of World Cup
RUGBY league fans and school children turned out in force to welcome Fiji’s 24-man Rugby League World Cup squad to Bolton on Saturday.
Fiji’s players and support staff will be based at the Devere 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 Westhoughton Lions and Bolton Mets were joined by a specially-chosen choir from St James Daisy Hill primary school to greet the players.
Cllr Anthony Connell, 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 produced a stirring rendition of Jerusalem as one of the three songs they performed.
In thanking the pupils, Fiji’s players responded by singing the prayer song they perform before every match.
Bolton Council has previously worked with the Fiji team, who will take coaching sessions for youngsters and visit schools during their time in the town.
Fiji have donated free tickets for their first group game with Ireland in Rochdale to the choir singers.
Fiji’s squad had travelled from Catterick Garrison, where they had been training, and while most of the squad play in Australia’s NRL, the trip to England is the first out of Fiji for some of the squad.
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, athough 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, from Bolton Council and the former chaiman of Westhoughton Lions, was integral to organising Fiji’s 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 Mr 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.
“The singing was fantastic and the Fiji lads really seemed to put a lot of gusto into it — I’m just glad our players don’t sing every week because I’m not sure they could pull it off as well!”
A crowd of about a hundred crowded into 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, it can be daunting when there’s only a small group of you but they were fantastic,” she said.
Westhoughton Lions coach Tony Grindley: “We had kids from seven up to 16 here and it will have been great for all of them to see the Fiji players, and their size, up close.
“Some of the younger ones haven’t slept they were that excited and they will always remember today.”
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