Wayne Bennett letter saves 'Fijian Ferrari' from deportation
A TIMELY letter from Broncos coach Wayne Bennett has helped save Jets centre Nemani Valekapa's rugby league career.
The flying Fijian Ferrari, as he is known, was set to be sent back to his homeland in August when his sports visa ran out.
It would have been a massive blow to Valekapa, his wife and two young children who have made a home in Kalbar, a half hour drive from Ipswich.
For Valekapa's visa to be renewed he needed a letter to confirm he has the ability to play at the highest level.
Bennett wrote a letter on April 2 this year to the Department of Immigration where he personally supported Valekapa's visa application.
"Nemani has the ability to compete at the national level in Australia as he has shown by his having already played international rugby league," Bennett wrote.
"Nemani's participation with the Ipswich Jets will result in improved training and skill development for the team and (his) participation in the sport in Australia would benefit the Rugby League in Australia by raising the standard of competition.
"If a centre position becomes open this season at the Broncos, Nemani will certainly be considered by me for selection."
Jets chairman Steve Johnson said Valekapa came to Australia on a sports training visa where he initially played for the Fassifern Bombers.
"After he played for Fiji, the ARL provided Fassifern with a letter of support saying that Nem had the capabilities of playing in a national competition which is one of the requirements to get the visa," Johnson said.
"One of the requirements for his visa to be renewed was that he did have the capacity to play in the NRL.
"Fortunately, being a Broncos affiliated club, Wayne came to our games to look at players and one of those was Nem in case he needed him in the centres.
"Wayne was approached about his opinion of Nem and was willing to write a letter of support saying Nem could play in the NRL.
"What Wayne did was so important because we also have to get a letter from the NRL to the Immigration Department to confirm that as well.
"The NRL were initially concerned that Nem had played the majority of his football in what they called 'park football' and weren't prepared to take the word of our coaches and myself that Nem was an NRL standard player.
"Wayne's opinion, as the greatest coach ever in rugby league, was crucial.
"That allowed us to get an extension of his visa and the NRL's Todd Greenberg provided the letter to Immigration saying Nem was capable of playing in the national competition."
Unfortunately the letter from the NRL arrived two weeks after the cut-off date and Valekapa's next visa renewal is still before Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton.
But it is now hoped that the next extension of Valekapa's visa will be a formality as Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale and Blair MP Shayne Neumann have also written letters of support highlighting what a great role model he is in the Fijian community.
Co-coach Shane Walker said Bennett's letter was "extremely important" for Valekapa, his family and the club.
"Wayne knew he was a special player and his letter has enabled Nem to stay in Australia and with the Jets," Walker said.
It was also critical in enabling the Jets to field there strongest team in the Intrust Super Cup finals series.
In the grand final win over the Blackhawks it was a play by Valekapa where he scooted around four defenders and enabled flyer winger Ben Barba to fly down the left edge and set up a try for Dane Phillips which got the Jets going.
"Nemani is an unbelievable talent and so special to our team," Walker said.
Valekapa said Bennett's letter was a Godsend at just the right time.
"I am very grateful to Wayne for giving me a supporting letter that says I am a good player," he said.
"It means everything to me.
"It means my family can stay here and I have an opportunity to try and crack the NRL."