Petero Civoniceva: Australia, Queensland and Fiji’s rugby league warhorse

Zach Holland

There is not a role that oozes traits such as strength, power, tenacity, aggression and hard work more than the prop position.

If you look at both sides of the world, players such as Jamie Peacock, Adrian Morley, Ruben Wiki and Shane Webcke are just some of the legends of the game that went on to be forces of nature in the front-row. Throughout the 2000s there was a player who showcased this more than most though and that was Petero Civoniceva. So in tribute, we take an in depth look into the career of the man himself.

Born in Suva, Fiji, Civoniceva moved to Redcliffe in Queensland with his parents before his first birthday. Throughout his younger years he played junior rugby as part of the Redcliffe Dolphins until 1994. After spending time with the reserve-grade side, he eventually made the move up to Brisbane’s first-grade team in 1998 and from there would go on to have a sensational debut season. In his first full season with the Broncos he claimed Rookie of The Year honours and would come off the bench in Brisbane’s Grand Final victory against Canterbury.

The bulldozing prop missed Brisbane’s victory in the 2000 NRL Grand Final against Sydney due to injury as well as missing out on Australia’s victorious Rugby League World Cup campaign. However, he was back in the starting line-up for the 2001 World Club Challenge against Super League club St Helens. Although the game would end in defeat, Civoniceva went on to shine that year and earned himself a call-up to the Queensland and Australia squads. The State of Origin that year saw the Maroons claim their first series win since 1998, with the bruising front-rower starting all three games, while the Kangaroos continued their dominance after winning two of the three tests against Great Britain, with Civoniceva appearing off the bench in each game.

The 2004 season was again another year of hard-hitting impact and sheer influence as the Broncos went on to finish third in the ladder. There may not have been a NRL title at the end of it but his performances throughout the year didn’t go unnoticed as he was awarded his first of two Player of The Year awards for Brisbane.

Up to this time he had formed a destructive partnership alongside his fellow prop forward Webcke. The pair would become mainstays not only for Brisbane but for Queensland and Australia as well. Their hard work and determination combined with their more than impressive physical attributes made them the go-to front-row tandem. They were relentless and never looked to give their opposition time to breathe and were the pinnacle to Brisbane’s success.

After six years without appearing in a Grand Final, Brisbane returned to Australia’s showpiece event in 2006 with the ruthless prop at his absolute best throughout the year. The Broncos went on to claim their sixth title that year after defeating Melbourne – Civoniceva claiming Brisbane’s Player of the Year award for the second time in another outstanding year.

The end of the 2007 season saw his contract expire, with Brisbane deciding against renewing his contract due to salary cap restrictions. However, even with the possibility of a move to Super League, he opted to stay within the NRL and sign for Penrith Panthers in time for the start of the 2008 season. The move allowed himself to still be considered for selection for both Queensland and Australia.

It was a new year and new team, but he was still again at his destructive best. Even though Penrith failed to make the NRL finals that year, he was still showcasing why he was clearly one of the best props in the game. After a decade of being in the league, he finally won an award that had alluded him until that season and that was the Dally M Prop of The Year – an accolade thoroughly deserved due to his displays at both league and Origin level throughout the year. The 2008 State of Origin series even saw him awarded the Ron McAuliffe Medal as the best Queensland player over the course of the three games.

During the 2010 season he brilliantly captained the Panthers to a second-place finish during the regular season – but he would be sent off in the penultimate round of the season against Canterbury, resulting in a two-match suspension. The big Fijian’s presence, influence and leadership was certainly felt as Penrith succumbed to defeat against Canberra in the first week of the finals.

In 2011, he was again one of the stars of Origin as Queensland continued their remarkable run of dominance by claiming their sixth consecutive series win, with Civoniceva winning his second Ron McAuliffe Medal after proving to be the best player in a Maroons jersey that year. By 2012, his stint with Penrith had come to its conclusion and a return to Brisbane followed, with the rugby league legend then announcing his retirement effective at the end of the season. In one final year, he became the 17th player to exceed 300 first-grade appearances as well as appearing in one final Origin series. However, the 2012 season would not be the last we saw of the man as in 2013 he was chosen to represent his native country of Fiji during the Rugby League World Cup that year.

By the end of his career he made 309 appearances while scoring 25 tries in the process. Altogether, he helped the Broncos bring in three NRL titles as well as claiming the Dally M Prop of The Year, two Ron McAuliffe Medals, a Harry Sunderland Medal (awarded to the best Australian player in a home Ashes series) and RLPA Player of The Year. Throughout his 15-year career, he would make the fifth most appearances in State of Origin history after turning out for the Maroons on 33 occasions and to this day, he has made the joint fourth most appearances for Australia with 45.

As props in the modern era go, there was not many better than Civoniceva. The Fijian bulldozer cemented himself as a warhorse among the league and his large frame and huge motor made him a true nightmare for oppositions to deal with.

There is no doubt that he could be relied upon to do his job and be right there in the thick of the action. He was one of the most relentless and aggressive forwards to step out on to a rugby league field.

He was never the biggest try scoring threat but what he was able to do in between all that is what made him stand above the rest, with his work ethic and hard running allowing him to put his side on the front foot on plenty of occasions. The partnership between himself and Webcke in the Broncos, Queensland and Australia front-row will go down as one of the greatest front-row partnerships in the sport’s history, with Civoniceva establishing himself as one of the most feared men in the league.

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