For a player who hadn’t touched an oval ball or even heard of the oval shaped ball game during his schooling days, Niwanka Prasad, a.k.a ‘Bakki’ has achieved quite a lot in his remarkable career. Just like all good athletes have, Prasad too has a wonderful story of his own that led him to where he is today; a key player in the Sri Lanka Rugby team.
A conventional national rugby player would most definitely have learnt the basics of rugby at a junior level in school and later represented that same school or played for another, and then joined a club. But, that is not the case for the 32-year-old – he was a student of the Biyagama Imbulpe Rajasinghe Vidyalaya, where there was no rugby.
Playing as a loose forward, Bakki first caught the eye of the selectors in 2016, since his introduction to the sport in 2009. His groundbreaking tackles in defense, strength, power and endurance as a ball-carrier in attack, proved invaluable when he was called up for National training ahead of the Asia Rugby Championship Division 01 2016 tournament, making a great justification for his efforts and dedication.
Not even Prasad had imagined himself representing the country as a rugby player, but it’s amazing what a little twist of fate can do. This unexpected journey began when he joined the Sri Lanka Navy as a school-leaver.
Going back to his childhood, Prasad was a mischievous boy who had a secret life as a school athlete where he excelled in the Javelin, Shot Putt and Discuss events. It was kept a secret because he knew there would be roadblocks by his family if they knew about his extra-curricular activities. But, later on, after he made it to the Zonal, District and National levels, his parents stood beside him. After he joined the Sri Lanka Navy, Prasad was successful in several ‘Inter-Unit Championships’ which caught the eye of many senior officers who immediately requested him to report for rugby practices.
That’s when the athletic star who was stationed in the Poonewa Navy Camp began his voyage of chasing an oval ball in 2009.
Prasad, who had the littlest of idea about rugby, was provided with the basics by his then coaches and he took up the challenge. A year and a half later, Prasad was picked to represent the Navy Sports Club ‘C’ Division team, paving the way for his first league tournament. Fast forward to 2013, he was playing like an ‘A’ Division flanker and deservedly so, he got into the ‘A’ team of the Navy Sports Club Rugby team.
“Everything I’ve achieved in rugby, I owe it to the Navy Sports Club. All my coaches, team mates and superiors, without them I wouldn’t have been able to achieve anything”
By the end of 2016, Niwanka Prasad was a well-known name in the rugby fraternity, having played over 40 Division 1 matches. Thereon, he had been an integral member of the Navy team especially when they clinched the league title in 2014.
Come 2016, Prasad was able to debut for Sri Lanka at the age of 30. An age any other rugby player would be contemplating life after rugby. But not Bakki!
After rendering his services to the Navy Sports Club for close to 10 years, Prasad moved to CH & FC in the concluded league and was amongst the best flankers in the tournament. Scoring 4 tries in the season, one would never believe that he never played rugby in his young age.
Now at 32, the mature fighter is set to shed his blood, sweat and tears putting his body on the line for Sri Lanka yet again. Although he never thought he’d don a national rugby jersey, he always worked hard to someday represent Sri Lanka in the international stage.
“As long as my mind and body can keep going, I will play the game. And although I failed to represent my country in athletics, through rugby I somehow achieved my dream”