But missing his mum in Fiji
Unstoppable … Simon Lilicama makes a break in the Heartland Championship game against Horowhenua-Kapiti at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
They [my family] are my biggest fans and I would love for them to be able to see me playing rugby in New Zealand.ddSimon Lilicama is taking it all in his very long stride.
The schoolboy sensation could be excused for getting a little carried away as his rugby career takes off – but that is not his style.
Lilicama (19) might be starting on the wing for North Otago in the Heartland Championship but he is still getting up at 5am every day in the St Kevin’s College hostel, still has exams to sit and still misses his mum a lot.
“I’m really proud to be playing for North Otago every week because I didn’t expect that,” the softly spoken Fijian told the Oamaru Mail.
“But I’ve still got a lot to learn and a lot of hard work to do.”
Lilicama’s family is originally from Taveuni, Fiji’s third-largest island, but he lived in Suva from a young age.
His parents and siblings – one brother, one sister, both older – remain in the islands, and the young star has only been able to return to see his family once.
“It’s tough. I miss them a lot, especially my mum.
“They’re my biggest fans and I would love for them to be able to see me playing rugby in New Zealand.”
He had always hoped to find a pathway out of Fiji through sport or education, he said.
He was into rugby and athletics – his best time for the 100m was 10.8sec, and an American scholarship was a possibility – and it wasn’t long before New Zealand schools came calling.
Partial scholarships to powerhouse North Island schools Kelston and Lindisfarne were dangled before the family made the decision that St Kevin’s was the ideal destination.
“Rugby is really different out here,” Lilicama said.
“In Fiji, you basically want to kill each other in school rugby. It’s a bit easier here.
“But club and Heartland rugby, it’s unbelievable – the skills, the basics, everything.”
Ineligible for St Kevin’s for all but interschools this year, Lilicama was released to play senior club rugby for Athletic Marist each Saturday.
He revelled in the supportive atmosphere of the club, scoring a Citizens Shield-best 14 tries and also displaying his goal-kicking ability, before being selected in the North Otago squad.
Life with the Old Golds has been made easier by the presence of fellow Fijians Matthew Vocea and Meli Kolinisau, and senior player Lemi Masoe.
“Those guys have been so good to me.
“Matthew, I basically look at him as my brother. And I’ve learned so much from Lemi.”
Lilicama, who clocks in at 93kg, started rugby in the forwards – his idol was Australian great John Eales – before moving to centre at the age of 12.
While he revelled in watching Fiji claim gold at the Olympics, and he trained with the national sevens squad a few years ago, he hopes to progress through the ranks in his adopted country and play Mitre 10 Cup before targeting an All Black jersey.
A building apprenticeship – and those pesky exams – will take priority before any of that can happen.