IIn a parallel universe, Samu Kerevi could be a mainstay in the All Blacks midfield. At the age of seven, he was forced to flee a coup in the Solomon Islands and boarded a cargo plane bound for New Zealand. As fate would have it, however, the flight was diverted to Australia and although Kerevi spoke no English, he was given Salvation Army clothing and granted asylum for forge a life in Brisbane, where the Wallabies host Eddie Jones’ side. in the second test on Saturday.
If this sounds like a sliding door moment, then Kerevi had a few. He moved to the Solomon Islands because his grandfather – Kerevi was raised by his grandparents – was stationed there for his work with the Commonwealth. The 28-year-old had left Fiji to be with his grandfather when he was young – partly because he was born out of wedlock and partly because his parents could not afford it. raising him and his two brothers, Joshua and Jone.
It was also to escape a life of crime, because at the time the name Kerevi was known for all the wrong reasons. He talks about bank robberies, muggings and “a lot of criminal activity” that his cousins and uncles have been involved in. “Like things out of a movie,” says Kerevi, whose cousin is about to complete a 14-year prison term, and whose uncles have been imprisoned for more than 15 years. It was a fate that awaited Kerevi until he walked away and now it’s motivation to restore the pride of the family name with performances for the Wallabies like the one that won him the man of the match in the 30-28 win in the First Test last Saturday.
“I had a pretty tough upbringing,” Kerevi says. “My mother had us before the wedding, quite young, around 19-20 years old. It was quite a difficult situation. They weren’t in the best neighborhood and there was a lot of criminal activity. It was my grandmother’s sister’s family, they raised me – in Fiji, everyone who is older is your grandparent. [My grandfather] was working for the Commonwealth at the time and was posted to the Solomon Islands. My older brother was going with my grandparents, I was going with another group of grandparents, and my younger brother was staying with my parents because they couldn’t support all three of us financially.
“Then the coup happened in 1999 or 2000 so we had to flee the Solomon Islands. We were actually on our way to New Zealand but the plane stopped in Australia, I got an asylum seeker visa and we ended up staying here, I didn’t really know what was going on.
“For me as a kid it was probably more of an adventure. Even leaving Fiji I probably thought my grandparents would go to the beach and I would follow. I think back on it now and it could have been much more dangerous. I’m really grateful to be where I am now. To be able to play for the Wallabies is me giving back to a country that has given me so much.
Since making his Australian debut against England six years ago in Brisbane, Kerevi has become arguably the most fearsome center in the world. This game remains the last game Australia lost in Brisbane – a Wallabies stronghold and a city Kerevi feels blessed to call home.
“Fiji was a very tough upbringing but we were always protected from it,” adds Kerevi, who is set to line up ahead of Noah Lolesio on Saturday with Quade Cooper set to miss again with a calf injury. “A lot of my older cousins are in jail, my uncles have been in jail for over 15 years. They’re all out now and they’ve turned their lives around. [My family] got me out of there because it wasn’t the best situation. Lots of criminal activity – bank robberies and muggings.
“As a Fijian, your surname is really important and our name on my dad’s side wasn’t very good back then. Even though they all had different surnames, everyone knew them as the name of Kerevi and this name was not positive I come home and my uncles sit me down and tell me how grateful they are to me and my brothers [who also play in Japan] who changed that surname.
“The biggest part I take from football is being able to link that name to something positive. For me that’s really special. I know and understand the hardships my family has gone through in these difficult times. Being able to give back, through positivity, financially or just being there in Fiji fills a huge hole in my heart.