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Suva to Santiago: How Montoya's culture manifests on the field

When Marcelo Montoya powers along a rugby league field some of the traits so often associated with brilliant Fijian athletes are pretty clear to see in him. 

He can run past you – but get in the way and he might go through you instead – and for that he can thank the genes that come from his Suva-born mum Litiana. 

However, ask the 28-year-old Warrior and he'll tell you the Chilean side – from dad Marcello Snr – is there in abundance too, and admittedly it can sometimes be to his detriment as a rugby league player. 

"I actually think sometimes I need to dial back the South American side," Montoya told ahead of his side's Multicultural Round clash with the Raiders on Friday night. 

"When I'm on the field I can be a bit too passionate and have a temper, so sometimes I need to be a bit more on Fiji time!

"I get a lot of my traits from my dad. He was a bit snappy as well, I reckon I get that from him, whereas my mum is real chilled and easy going."

Mixing in Fijian circles with such a distinctly South American last name regularly leads to some funny questions for Montoya and he often has to explain the story behind his unique heritage. 

Montoya all muscle

A mechanical engineer originally hailing from Chile's capital Santiago, Marcelo Snr was helping to build a marina in Fiji when he met Litiana, who at the time was working on the front desk of a Fijian resort.

Their relationship led to Marcelo Snr fully embracing the culture of his new home, which for Marcelo Jnr – who was born in Lautoka but moved to Australia at the age of two – allowed for near full immersion in the Fijian way of life as a toddler. 

But it also meant missing out on opportunities to learn more about his Chilean lineage from his father, who passed away in 2019. 

We never knew much about our Chilean side and my old man was happy with it that way... he wanted us to grow up the Fijian way because he fell in love with the Fijian culture.

Marcelo Montoya

"He told us growing up that he just loved how everyone was grateful and happy for what they have in Fiji.

"In South America he was always sort of chasing that next job, but in Fiji everyone was just grateful for what they had. I think that sort of showed him a new perspective on life.

"I'd love to go back to Chile and visit. It does interest me for sure to learn more about that side of me, because he never really spoke about it; he was a private man.

"It would be cool for me once I'm older to go over there and look back and see where he was born and kind of chase those roots."

But for now he's focused on continuing to deepen his connection to the culture he grew up with, which has been fostered in recent years by his involvement with the Fiji Bati national team and moving to Auckland, where there is a large Fijian community. 

Montoya in action for Fiji against Papua New Guinea in 2018.
Montoya in action for Fiji against Papua New Guinea in 2018. ©NRL Photos

His efforts include re-learning the language at a fluent level, an ability he lost after moving to Australia and starting school. 

"Over time as I learned English I just couldn't speak Fijian anymore, so I want to kind of dial it back and learn again," he said. 

I can understand it and get myself out of trouble with it, but I want to be able to sit down with my mum and be able to go word for word with her in Fijian.

Marcelo Montoya

"My old man loved learning to speak Fijian as well.

"So that's my goal in the end and I think it's a good goal for me."

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