Fisilau looking forward to his big night at Brickfields
PLYMOUTH Albion centre Keni Fisilau is looking forward to a 'special' evening tonight.
Fisilau marks his 11 years at Albion with a testimonial match at Brickfields between a South Sea Islanders XV and a South West Select XV (7.30pm).
Organisers are hoping a large crowd will turn up to a honour a player that has given so much to rugby in Plymouth.
"Having a testimonial is really special to me," said Fisilau.
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"Not too many people stay at clubs 10 or more years."
Fisilau arrived at Albion, then in National League Division Two, in the summer of 2001 alongside fellow Tongan Sikuti Vunipola.
Few people would have imagined then that Fisilau would still be at the club 11 years later and be Albion's all-time record league appearance holder.
"I think the last 11 years have gone fast," admitted Fisilau.
"I was really welcomed when I first came here from supporters and staff.
"I had no problems with anyone at the club.
"In some ways it also helped having Sikuti here."
Neither Fisilau or Vunipola established themselves at Albion in the 2001-02 season due to the overseas rule that meant only two non-EU players could feature in a matchday squad.
The form of Kiwi's Russell Thompson and Glenn Bunny meant Fisilau made just six first team appearances that season, five in the league and one in the cup, and Vunipola made only one.
Vunipola moved on at the end of the season in search of first team rugby, but Fisilau was determined to make his mark at Albion and opted to stay.
However, he admitted he did considering moving on but opted to stay after a heart-to-heart with then chairman of rugby Graham Dawe.
"That first season was really hard," said Fisilau, who did not have his family around for the first three months.
"I only played six first team games that season. The rest of the time I was playing for the Warriors.
"It was hard for me to find a place in the team."
He added: "I was thinking about moving somewhere else to play, but I ended up staying and finding a place in the side.
"I took my opportunity when it came.
"It was a tough decision to stay because I had not played that much in the first season, but I wanted to prove myself and did not want to go home."
Fisilau was glad he stayed and he and his family have really made Plymouth their home.
The Tongan admitted his family helped him when he was feeling homesick in his early years at Albion.
"It was about three or four months before they arrived," he said.
"It was good when they came.
"I still missed home, but I had my wife and kids' support.
"I felt much better when they came."
Fisilau's second season was in total contrast to his first.
He missed the start of the campaign due to his involvement with Tonga in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, but once he got his chance he took it.
He ended up winning the club's player of the year award as Albion finished ninth in their first season back in English rugby's second tier.
"I still remember that season," said Fisilau.
"It was really tough for the team in Division One having just come up from the lower league.
"But we managed to stay up and I found a place.
"However, there were a lot of good centres (Pat Sykes had joined at the end of the previous year, Graeme Kiddie, James Shanahan, Ross Winney in the summer and Chris Yates joined later that year).
"You knew if you played bad you would lose your place.
"I was very glad to get the player of the year, but it was a big surprise to me.
"Come my third season the team were a lot more confident, having had a year in the league."
Albion moved from Beacon Park to Brickfields that season and Fisilau had the honour of being the first person to score a try at the new ground.
"That was a good memory," said Fisilau.
"As was finishing third (behind Worcester and Orrell) that year in a strong league.
"People do not realise how hard it was to get that place. It was really hard work to finish in the top three."
Albion also managed it the year after and also reached their first ever Twickenham cup final.
Some of the Albion team had played there with Devon, but Fisilau feels it is completely different playing there with your club.
"It is different when you represent your club at Twickenham," he said.
"It was so nice to wear that Albion shirt there."
After missing out on promotion, Albion lost a lot of their top players.
Dan Ward-Smith, Lee Robinson, Andy Perry, Tino Paoletti and James Pritchard were all picked off by top flight sides and in the following years the likes of Alfie Tooala, Luke Arscott, Ed Barnes and Tom Arscott also moved up.
Fisilau's form did attract attention of other clubs, particularly some of Albion's West Country rivals, but he does not have any regrets about not having ever played in the Premiership.
"I never thought about it," he said. "I was always happy here.
"I've been happy ever minute I've been here.
"Plymouth is like a second home to me and my family.
"I want to end my career in rugby at Plymouth Albion."
Fisilau may be 36, but he believes he still has plenty of rugby in him.
And current Albion coach Nat Saumi obviously agrees, having just awarded him a new deal.
"I hope I have another two years of playing in me," said Fisilau.
Fisilau, though, is already looking to the future.
He has been helping to coach the University of Plymouth team and hopes he could have a future in coaching.
"I am really close to Nat (Saumi) and he has encouraged me to keep doing the coaching and keep learning," said Fisilau.
"Hopefully, I can learn from Nat as a backs coach."
Fisilau has certainly played alongside some good players at Albion over the last 11 years.
He has played with 174 players during that time, with 32 of them either being full internationals or having gone on to play in the Premiership.
When asked who the best player he has played with at Albion, Fisilau said: "That is hard to say. I have played with a lot of good players.
"But I think one of the best was Dan Ward-Smith. The reason why was because he was quicker than any back. He had amazing speed and could score from anywhere."
Although he says he has loved his time in Plymouth there have been a few low points.
"They have been the yellow cards and red card," he said.
"It has been really frustrating to have been banned for some time.
"It is something I try to forget."
Fisilau has just ended an 18-week suspension for a dangerous tackle against London Scottish.
His ban ended at the start of this week, meaning he can play tonight.
"I felt unlucky with the 18 week ban," he said. "I did not even get a yellow card in that game, but I have to move on and forget about it."
Another low point for Fisilau was the sacking of chairman of rugby Dawe in November.
Fisilau had the utmost respect for Dawe and even asked him to name his oldest son, Gregory, who will be playing at Brickfields tonight in an under-nines warm-up match.
"That (Dawe's sacking) was hard as Graham has helped me a lot since I came here," said Fisilau.
Fisilau said it was tradition among Tongans to ask a respected friend or elder to name their sons.
"You ask someone you appreciate, someone who has done a lot for you," said Fisilau.
He picked Dawe and Faeo Vunipola, who helped arrange his move to Plymouth, to name his two sons.
It means that wherever Fisilau ends up in the future, just looking at his sons will remind him of his time at Albion.