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Raiders winger Semi Valemei.

When the reception drops out in Navedamu, the locals climb the nearest mountain with phones in hand.

When church clashes with kick-off, the service is simply cancelled.

Semi Valemei's family and friends will be watching Friday's latest Roosters-Raiders stoush come hell or high water.

Among them will be his three-week-old baby daughter, who has the young winger's nose and eyes, but no definitive date on when they might actually meet in the flesh.

And above them all, the family matriarch she's named after, the woman driving Fiji's latest softly spoken flyer with one hell of a tale.

Dad and daughter separated for now

Valemei will trot out onto the SCG on Friday to stand outside Jarrod Croker, and opposite Brett Morris for his ninth NRL outing.

Between them, Croker and Morris boast 545 games and 297 tries, and surrounding them and Valemei will be 150-odd years of Australian sporting history.

But for the briefest of moments before kick-off, another duo take priority.

The scrawled name 'Rosi' on Valemei's right wrist is a nod to his new bouncing bub back in Fiji.

Valemei steamrolls his way to a double

His Canberra teammates were at first told it was for a favourite niece back home, such was the 21-year-old's reticence to make anything about him.

Visa restrictions, and the chance he might not be let back into Australia under current pandemic protocols, mean Valemei doesn't know when he will get to meet his daughter.

He does know it could be several months. And why the best thing he can do for her, his partner Litia and his entire family is to stay the course in Canberra.

Semi Valemei's daughter Rosi.
Semi Valemei's daughter Rosi.

"She was born the day before the Warriors game," Valemei beams.

"She looks like me pretty much! We've got the same nose, and the same eyes. We named her Rosi.

"People have asked me if I've ever wanted to go home. Of course I do.

"But I have a job to do here, and that's the best thing I can do for her, do my job and make my family proud. I call every single day and talk to her every single day.

"At the moment we don't know when I can go back because the border is still closed in Fiji. If I go now there's the quarantine.

"But it could mean I can't come back to Australia yet because I'm not a citizen here. So it's going to be hard for me.

"Some day I will be able to of course, but we just have to wait for now."

'The hardest day of my life'

The resolve to stay put with the Raiders comes straight from the woman who often wondered why her son chose sport over school.

Valemei is still not sure if his mum knew he skipped his last school exam to get a game in, prioritising a days' worth of travel for an hour's worth of footy, Fiji-style.

But when it became clear to Mereseini Valemei that her second youngest child wanted to make a career in either rugby code, she gave her blessing.

Making that fateful call last January that much harder.

Semi Valemeu with mum Mereseini.
Semi Valemeu with mum Mereseini.

"The day mum died, that was the hardest day of my life," Valemei says.

"I was crying the whole day, I was just in shock. It was such a surprise because she wasn't sick or anything like that. It was a heart attack.

"We had a gym session in the morning and we had training in the afternoon. I got the call in between.

"I got home after all the travel and my dad was crying, everyone was crying. No one could believe it."

It was Raiders welfare manager David Thom that first put Valemei up when he arrived the club in 2018.

It was Thom who put him on the plane back to Fiji when Mereseini passed away.

"I did wonder if staying at home would prove too strong for him," Thom says.

"But his old man effectively told him to get going after a while.

"There's only one way to describe how he's handled losing his mum. Unbelievably. It had to be killing him inside but Semi handled it like an old man. He was strong.

"He dealt with it and came back and he's never wavered. He's doing all this for his family. We've talked about it often and while he doesn't talk a hell of a lot, he's handled it."

'Do the Raiders play NRL too?'

Valemei first left Fiji as a 17-year-old for a quick stint on the Sunshine Coast, former Fijian international Wise Kativerata spotting him first in his tiny village.

When Valemei wandered into a Sunshine Coast gym for the first time in his life, a couple of 20-kilo weights were whacked on the bar.

"They had to take them off and put tens on!" he says.

"Now I can bench [press] 110, but I was so skinny, I could only bench 40 kilos for the first month."

He played for the Caloundra Sharks before being scouted by Raiders recruitment guru Peter Mulholland at a school carnival back in the island nation.

"I remember first being told 'there's a team called the Raiders, and you could get the chance to play under 20s there'," Valemei laughs.

"I asked if they played NRL too!"

Roosters v Raiders - Semi Final

All the while, Mereseini's advice those first few times he flew out of Fiji rang loud and clear.

"Mum always told me to focus on my schoolwork," he explains.

"But I would tell her back 'I'm not good at school, I want to play footy'.

"She was very proud though that I put in all the hard work to get here.

"When I came to Australia, she told me 'don't follow other people. You focus on your dream and focus on footy'.

"Because I had decided for a long time that footy was what I wanted to do. She told me if that's what I wanted to do, then I had to keep focused on it."

Moving mountains and cancelling church

Again, back to the cricket ground.

The same scene where Valemei made a surprise NRL debut in July, given his crack off a depleted Raiders bench against the Roosters once more.

Around a million TV viewers tuned into one of the most famous wins in Canberra's 38-year history.

A similar small-screen audience is tipped for Friday's sudden-death semi-final.

Again, for the briefest of moments before kick-off, Valemei's thoughts travel elsewhere.

To a hundred-odd Fijian villagers living two days' worth of flights, buses and boat trips away.

"Sometimes I'll run out for a game and wonder 'did they get the Sky working or did they have to climb the mountain today!'," Valemei laughs.

"If the [Sky Pacific] app doesn't work they'll climb up the mountain to watch it on their phones.

"You can see the mountain from the village, but I think it's still two or two-and-a-half hours walk to the top."

Dodgy phone service is one thing in Fiji. The Almighty is another.

But not even God can get between the good folk of Navedamu and their rugby league now that one of their own is taking centre stage.

"The day we played the Warriors they were supposed to have a church service in the afternoon at 3 o'clock," Valemei says.

"But our game was at 4. So instead of waiting and watching a replay they just cancelled the service because they wanted to watch it live.

"I've never heard of that happening. I'm pretty lucky."

Acknowledgement of Country

Canberra Raiders respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.