Local legend Lote Tuqiri has launched the sixth edition of the Bayleys Fiji Coral Coast Sevens.
The Namatakula native presented the Lote Tuqiri Medal to Nailati Ukelele, the player of the tournament of the Uprising Schools Sevens, and was unveiled on the Walk of Fame in Sigatoka before addressing VIPs and sponsors at the official opening atthe Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort.
"Coming from the Coral Coast it is always nice to visit home and being asked to join several legends of the game on the Walk of Fame is a real honour," said the dual international. "Rugby sevens is a game that players of all backgrounds can enjoy and it really suits the Fijian flair.
"The growth of the game has been fantastic during the last ten to fifteen years and I am really looking forward to seeing sevens in the Olympic Games in Rio."
Tuqiri, who played for Fiji at the 2000 rugby league world cup before switching codes and going on to win 67 caps for the Wallabies, joins Waisale Serevi, David Campese, Jonah Lomu, Ben Gollings, Viliame Satala and Karl te Nana on the Hollywood-style series of plaques on the town's main street.
Serevi was in attendance today having arrived from the USA this morning.
"We are thrilled to add one of the Coral Coast's famous sons to the Walk of Fame," said Jay Whyte, Founding Chairman of the Bayleys Fiji Coral Coast Sevens. "Lote has achieved so much in his career in both rugby union and rugby league and is an inspiration to the youngsters of his village and in fact to all the people of Fiji.
"The addition of the inaugural Uprising School Sevens, which saw the best schools team in Fiji, is a wonderful opportunity for these youngsters and it is fantastic the Lote Tuqiri Rising Star Medal was presented to the player of the tournament by Lote Tuqiri himself."
Lelean MS won the tournament defeating Tuva 17-14 in a thrilling final.
Lelean made the final with a 17-5 win over Lomary in the last four while Tuva defeated Uprisng Academy 24-0 in their semi.
The Bayleys Fiji Coral Coast Sevens kicks off on TFL Thursday at Lawaqa Park.
International teams include the Aussie Thunderbolts, featuring another cross-code convert Marmin Barba, and Germany, who are preparing for a tilt at both HSBC Sevens World Series and Olympic qualification, headline the 16-team men's section.
Recent national debutants Stephan van der Walt and Henry Hutchison and newly contracted Sam Figg will also feature for the Thunderbolts.
However, the local teams are expected to dominate, including Red Rock, Wardens, Yamacia and defending champion Police, who are all former winners of the tournament and Uluinakau and Westfield Dragons who have also shown recent form.
Numerous players are vying for national selection under the watchful eye of coach Ben Ryan, including William Ryder, the twinkle-toed star of past national sides, who returns for Red Rock.
The tournament carries a first prize of $FJ20,000.
Meanwhile, the 12 teams in the Crest Na Iri Trophy for women will also vie for $20,000 in a first for Fiji.
"This year we are extremely happy to announce that we will be the first major event to have equal prizemoney for the men's and women's divisions," continued Whyte.
"With women's sevens in the Olympic Games, and Fiji being a world leader in the sport, it is only fitting that we recognise the development of the game."
The Aussie Pearls, although a young side being captained by Gemma Etheridge, are favoured to retain their title.
The Pearls dominated the UON Central Coast Sevens in October before the full squad won the opening round of the women's sevens world series in Dubai.
In their way will be TFL Fijiana who has split their national training squad into two teams – Tagimoucia and Mokosai – as well as fellow overseas teams USA Serevi Selects and NZ Raiders.
“We can’t wait to get back to Fiji and the spiritual home of sevens,” said Etheridge. “In an Olympic year all the girls will be pushing for spots and the Coral Coast Sevens is a great tournament to test ourselves.
“While the games are hard, the hospitality of the Fijian people is something special and we all have some amazing friends in rugby through our previous visits to Sigatoka.”
The men's tournament kicks off at 10am tomorrow, the women's event starts on Friday and finals for both competitions are played on Shangri-La Saturday.
All matches will be streamed live outside of Fiji on mytfl.com.fj
POOLS FOR THE BAYLEYS FIJI CORAL COAST SEVENS
A: Germany, Police, Shangri-La Daveta, Westfield Dragons
B: Aussie Thunderbolts, Outrigger Beach Resort, Uluinakau, Uprising Beach Resort
C: Coastal Ratu Filise, Hideaway Hurricanes, Tabadamu, Yamacia
D: BLK First Landing, Red Rock, Shipping Services Suva Stallions, Wardens
POOLS FOR THE CREST NA IRI TROPHY
Q: Aussie Pearls, Central Chiefs 2, Striders
R: Marist Seahawks, NZ Raiders, USA Serevi Selects
S: Mystic Knights, Nadi Blazers, TFL Fijiana Mokosai
T: Central Chiefs 1, Coastline Roos, TFL Fijiana Tagimoucia