SOUTH Warrnambool recruit Inoke Ratu grew up playing rugby in Fiji.
But the 197-centimetre athlete is no stranger to Australian rules football.
Ratu, 24, spent two years on an AFL international scholarship, signing with the Western Bulldogs as a teenager.
He developed his football skills under the guidance of Western Bulldogs recruiting manager Simon Dalrymple and AFL Fiji chairman Damian Ames in Suva between 2008 and 2010.
Ratu, affectionately known as Knox, then returned to rugby and spent time at Spanish club Les Abelles.
Family brought Ratu to Warrnambool in between a rugby stint at Charles Sturt University.
Ratu said he was thrilled to join the Roosters for the 2014 Hampden league season.
“Hopefully I will put my rugby defence techniques (to good use) on the field,” he said.
Ratu played outside centre in rugby union and wing, full-back and centre in rugby league.
“I feel like I am the tallest guy in the team, so probably be a ruckman,” he said of his likely role with South Warrnambool.
Ratu, who recently married Warrnambool’s Alison Wade, said he trained with a number of Hampden and Warrnambool and District league clubs before signing with the Roosters.
“I made up my mind to join South Warrnambool because basically I want to be part of a build-up team, not a team that is in the top two or top three,” he said.
“And just joining other blokes who are really good at footy. Coming from a rugby background I still think that it is better for me to prove myself in a team that is building up.”
Ratu touched base with Dalrymple again in September last year.
Dalrymple contacted Western Bulldogs’ officials and Ratu spent three months training at Whitten Oval, in between training with Koroit coach Adam Dowie.
Ratu was put through beep and sprint tests and worked on his kicking, handballing and marking.
During his international scholarship he worked on the basic fundamentals of AFL.
“With Western Bulldogs during that time I was basically trying to get my skills right, working on kicking, handballing, just basically all the major skills in AFL,” he said.
“I got trialled in any position and I think one of the main things was trying to get the skills right.”
Ratu said his nickname stuck when he was playing rugby in Spain.
“Everyone was asking me about my name and I said my name is Inoke and the Spanish boys that I played with were all trying to pronounce my name but it wasn’t proper,” he said.
“So I said ‘listen, just call my Knox’. It is simple.”
South coach Matt Monk said Ratu, the first Fijian to play for the Roosters,would add another dimension to their line-up.
“Knox is obviously a unique recruit for our club,” he said.
“Whilst he has a lot to learn about the fundamentals of Aussie rules, we appreciate he is an elite athlete in other codes, which will help with the transition”