‘I was sinking, it was rock bottom’: Perese’s brutal honesty after Rennie’s call changes his path

Last week, when Dave Rennie named the 34 players who departed Australia on Wednesday to join three overseas based Wallabies on the spring tour, he had some fatherly words about some of his flock. “Invariably we’ve got some guys who, as younger men, made some poor decisions,” Rennie said. “They’ve made shifts around that and […]

‘I was sinking, it was rock bottom’: Perese’s brutal honesty after Rennie’s call changes his path

Last week, when Dave Rennie named the 34 players who departed Australia on Wednesday to join three overseas based Wallabies on the spring tour, he had some fatherly words about some of his flock.

“Invariably we’ve got some guys who, as younger men, made some poor decisions,” Rennie said. “They’ve made shifts around that and and I’m going to judge guys on how they behave within our environment as opposed to what other people are telling me about them.”

Izaia Perese is one of those young men; a footy player signed to an NRL deal, busted on a drugs charge, who thought he’d hit rock bottom, only to discover there was further to fall.

On Wednesday, Perese, 24, took his seat on the plane headed north, having made the same trip five years ago as a development player under Michael Cheika. So much has changed in that time, as Perese is painfully, yet hopefully, aware.

“I feel like my rock bottom was over in France,” said Perese, who had gone there to play rugby after the Broncos ended his contract over the drugs related incident, in which a conviction was not recorded.

“I thought I was going over there mentally strong. I was physically fit, probably the fittest I’d ever been, but once I was removed from my support network – my family, friends, my daughter – I didn’t know how to deal with that loneliness, I didn’t know how to deal with that anxiety that came along with it.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“Every day I was waking up and I just felt like I was sinking and it was hard to get through a day without thinking of home. Over in France was pretty rock bottom.”

Perese left the Reds to join the Broncos in 2019 and was generating some buzz before that fall from grace. He took off for France but the loneliness ate at him and he made a call to Waratahs defence coach Jason Gilmore, a contact from his Reds days, and he told him he wanted a second chance in Australian rugby.

“I’ve thought about it for the last week or so and had a chat with my mum and it’s quite funny that I’m back here now,” he says.

“It’s all meant to be, union’s my game, they gave me a second chance.

“I think it’s amazing. I’ve thought about it and I just think this time I won’t take it for granted.

“I’m definitely going to enjoy it a lot more off the field with getting to know the boys, not being so quiet because before I was real young, I was uptight about making the team but now the journey I’ve been through, going to France and a lot of other things, it’s made me appreciate my mates and everything I have.”

On Wednesday, as he owned up to an attitude problem, you could imagine the discussion he’d had with Rennie, who said: “With all these guys we spend a lot of time having a conversation.”

After Perese’s capable performances in a dire Waratahs team, the Australian coach had wanted to bring him in for the French series, but a shoulder reconstruction ruled him out.

His selection for this tour is intriguing. Only last week Rennie admitted he selected Perese without being sure of his fitness and yet his best chance of game time appears to be against France where Samu Kerevi is missing through injury.

“He hasn’t played a lot of footy so we’ve got a lot of work to get into him and whether he’ll be ready in 10 days to play Test footy is the question mark,” said Rennie.

“He’s been back in contact for the last couple of weeks and he’s ticked every box.”

For Perese, it’s part of his journey, as was his time in rugby league.

“I think the switch to rugby league was part of the journey I was supposed to take,” Perese said.

“It really taught me to start from the bottom again. I didn’t know it at the time but looking back I felt like I had a bit of an attitude problem, where I was exposed to the Wallabies environment at an early age, so I felt like things came a little easy to me.

“Going to the Broncos, getting absolutely pumped in the pre-season, starting from the bottom again, spending a whole year in [Queensland] Cup, it taught me a valuable lesson that footy isn’t life. I felt like I was just watching and learning.

“Obviously I mucked up a bit in the past and it just led me back into rugby union.”

Rennie, like a father and a prodigal son, was there waiting.

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The Thursday rugby two-up: Standout players of TRC

For one last look at The Rugby Championship for 2021, I thought it was worth getting the panel to have a bit of a think about some of the individuals who made the tournament what it was this year. The couple of ‘team of the tournament’ selections I’ve seen were generally skewed toward their country […]

The Thursday rugby two-up: Standout players of TRC

For one last look at The Rugby Championship for 2021, I thought it was worth getting the panel to have a bit of a think about some of the individuals who made the tournament what it was this year.

The couple of ‘team of the tournament’ selections I’ve seen were generally skewed toward their country of origin, but contained roughly equal representation from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Some, but not all, found room for one or maybe two Argentineans, but no more. And I think that all sounds about right based on this season’s showings, even allowing for local liberties.

We’ll get into Spring Tour predictions and hopes and dreams and everything next week, but I’m really interested to see what the guys came up with, and what you guys follow on with in the comments.

It should make for an interesting way to put a final bow on The Rugby Championship for the year…

Question 1: Who was your team’s most influential player for The Rugby Championship this season?

Harry
The Springboks disappointed in the middle two Tests. If they’d kicked their goals in Round 3 and defended the Wallabies like they usually do in Round 4, their existing No.1 ranking might’ve been accompanied by a rare RC trophy.

Nevertheless, the Boks’ tight five were consistently strong, even in the three losses.

Malcolm Marx was phenomenal, but is limited to a backup role. Steven Kitshoff also impressed in the last half. But monster minutes were needed with the absence of Pieter-Steph du Toit. So I’ll name a lock as the Bok of the tournament.

Either Lood de Jager or Eben Etzebeth would work, but I’ll go with Etzebeth for his all-around game: passes out the back, steals, chase, and dynamism. Lood right there, too, ruling the lineout.

Eben Etzebeth (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Geoff
Despite winning the Rugby Championship by a street, the All Blacks didn’t dominate the ’team of the tournament’ as much as might have been expected.

Theirs was a team effort more than a reliance on one or two outstanding players, but if forced to single one out, Jordie Barrett’s performance in Townsville – defusing bombs, running strongly and draining the match-winning penalty – marks him as their most influential player.

The Wallabies’ spread from best to worse was more uneven, as you’d expect from a developing side. But it was the addition of Samu Kerevi that proved hugely influential.

He was a midfield rock against the charging South African defence, a constant threat with the ball, and even showed off an improved passing game. Great to see a player go overseas and come back having taken his learnings from those learnings!

Brett
I’ve really given this some thought, because the Wallabies options feel a bit obvious: Michael Hooper was yet again superb, and Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi’s impact was both immediate and significant.

But I’m going to look past all of them and I’ll explain why.

Part of the reason Cooper was able to provide the platform he could was because of the go-forward being provided up through the middle, and while yes, Kerevi certainly aided this, it wasn’t all him.

No, the guy I’m looking at is Rob Valetini. He switched from blindside to the back of the scrum during the Bledisloe series, and he played well, but he really kicked on against South Africa, where he just kept charging right up through the guts of the Springboks’ defence.

Wallabies player Rob Valetini in action

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

And from that, Cooper and the Wallabies’ attack had the room and speed of ball to play so well from. Valetini wasn’t on his own, obviously, but he was the most consistent, and became the most deadly, the more second phase ball he was able to produce.

Hooper, Cooper, and Kerevi got all the headlines, but I’ll put it to you that Valetini was right up there with them, and he was a major reason the Wallabies were able to play on the front foot so much by the end of the tournament.

Nobes
Without a doubt, the best Pumas player on and off the court was Julian Montoya.

Not only did he lead the team and the tournament in tackles, but also as captain he had to lead the team in a situation quite against in terms of results and what was exposed on the court.

With Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, and Guido Petty off, plus the absence of Tomas Cubelli, Julian had to put the team on his shoulder and help the large number of debutants at Los Pumas under very adverse conditions.

Digger
My initial answer to this question was Aaron Smith – not so much his influence on the field but the obvious lack of influence his absence magnified, certainly missed.

In terms of on-field, plenty of players put their hands up for a game or two but in the end, I would suggest it was Jordie Barrett who perhaps proved the most influential. Certainly, his absence may have seen two losses to the Springboks, and his kicking (the non-karate type), assured defence and straight running was a welcome addition to the All Blacks’ play.

I would also suggest Ethan Blackadder, while perhaps not as influential but worth a mention none the less, was the find of the championship.

Question 2: And who was your player of the tournament from a team other than your own?

Harry
For the Wallabies, Samu Kerevi just nips Quade Cooper. For the Pumas, Julian Montoya, even if he looks so much like James Slipper.

The best All Black seemed to be Jordie Barrett, who stole the 15 jersey from Damian McKenzie.

Geoff
Slim pickings, I’m afraid, trying to pick a player of the tournament from the Pumas. That conversation starts and finishes with Julian Montoya.

The Springboks obviously started slowly, but found their level against the All Blacks. Their thrilling victory in the final match was a committed team effort, but the glue in the middle of it all was champion lock, Eben Etzebeth.

Brett
Yep, Julian Montoya was certainly the standout Puma, and I’ll happily join the chorus of praise going All Black flanker Ethan Blackadder’s way. He’s got a massive future ahead of him already.

I had to take a while to think about a best Springbok, and the guy I landed on was Duane Vermeulen.

Duane Vermeulen of South Africa looks on

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

And yes, it’s hard to argue that Eben Etzebeth was very, very good, but for me, Vermeulen was the glue holding the pack together. He was good against the Wallabies, but lifted that about 14 levels to beyond outstanding against New Zealand. Oh, and he’s north of 35.

Nobes
In Australia, the star player was Andrew Kellaway with his clean breaks and as the top try man of the tournament.

For the ‘Boks, Lood de Jager. I was very impressed not only with his qualities on the line but also in the open field.

For the All Blacks, I am going to choose a player who surprised me with his game in a team full of stars where it is difficult to stand out.

Every time he was on the court, I really liked the performance of Ethan Blackadder. He is a player whom I had not taken into account, but I was pleasantly surprised with what he brought both in attack and defence.

Digger
Julian Montoya certainly was the Pumas’ best and for his sheer consistency, Eben Etzebeth for the Springboks.

Michael Hooper was the Wallabies’ consistent best across the tournament, but there is no doubt the winning column started ticking over with the introduction of Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi.

Overall, I would give it to Quade Cooper, whose composure and steady hand guided his Wallabies to four in a row.

OVER TO YOU: Who was your team’s most influential player for TRC 2021?

And who was your player of the tournament from an opposition team?

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