Family heartache behind Haylett-Petty's breakout year

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

In his father’s eyes, Dane Haylett-Petty could never have a bad game.

Whether it was rugby or cricket, Haylett-Petty always knew Norman would be there to give him an extra confidence boost or some comforting words.

When he finally had the chance to don the Wallabies jersey, the culmination of nearly a decade-long rugby career, Haylett-Petty’s only regret was that his dad didn’t have the chance to see it.

Norman passed away in January, just five months before Dane was able to realise his rugby dream.

Dane Haylett-Petty sings the national anthem on debut. Photo: Getty Images“He was a massive rugby and cricket fan,” he said.

“He was probably more a Springboks fan growing up, very biased towards them but he was amazing just for my confidence.

“I could never have a bad game for him. He was always pumping me up. He played a massive role in my career and I'm sure he'd be very proud.”

While he can’t be there, Norman won’t be far from Dane’s thoughts on Saturday night.

“Something I was hoping to do before he passed away was pull on that jersey which I didn't unfortunately get to do but I'm sure he's watching and enjoying,” he says.

Dane Haylett-Petty on the Central Coast. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyHaylett-Petty’s rugby career has been somewhat of a family affair, Dane playing at the Western Force with brother, Ross, who he hopes will one day join him in a Test.

“I like to try and set an example for him and hopefully I’ve made the start of his career a little bit smoother, having gone through a lot of the stuff that he's had to go through,” he says.

“He didn't take his rugby too seriously, he's very laidback and didn't know what he wanted to do.

“He's obviously built for rugby with his size and I think only after school did he actually feel like having a crack at it and now he's slowly reaching his potential.

“It's pretty special that we get to play together week in, week out and hopefully one day we'll get to put on the gold together and play together.”

Dane Haylett-Petty will be hoping to continue his Test high. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyMum, Margie, travels for as many of Dane and brother Ross’s games as she can, making it to the Brisbane and Sydney Tests in June.

“While she doesn't like all the contact, she's our biggest fan and tries to get across to any games we have over east and stuff, so it would be amazing for her to come over again (for the Bledisloe),” he says.

Haylett-Petty’s star turn in his debut series betrayed the swirling nerves inside him, though those have been settled with each game.

“My family and some of my closest friends came over for my debut so it was a very special evening, I was a little bit too nervous to actually enjoy it,” he says.

“They were the longest days ever [waiting] for an 8 o'clock kick-off but I’m probably better equipped to handle it now that I've ticked off a few.”

Israel Folau has been one of Haylett-Petty's greatest influences. Photo; ARU Media/Stu walmsleyHaylett-Petty only has to look to the man beside him on match day to cool his nerves, playing alongside the unflappable Israel Folau

“I’m learning as much as I can from Izzy,” he says.

“It's pretty special having one of the world's best players next to you. He was amazing those first three Tests, nothing really fazes him.

“The biggest thing [he said] was for me to play my game and just try and bring my strengths to the Wallabies team and that's what I tried to do.”

His next challenge is to take that up a level, preparing for a task he rates as almost more difficult than winning a World Cup - trying to win back the Bledisloe Cup.

Dane Haylett-Petty has been working on his speed. Photo: Brian Hook PhotographyDane’s rollercoaster year continued after his June series debut, with Force coach Michael Foley departing the club and a troubled night out in South Africa making the headlines, after a string of losses.

At the end of it, though, he has retained his Wallabies spot and will line up for his first Bledisloe Cup match, with an assuredness he can take on anything that is thrown his way.

 “I think it's a tough ask [winning the Bledisloe], it's almost tougher than a World Cup if you think of knocking the Kiwis off two out of three games and going down there and winning,” he says.

“It’d be amazing to be a part of. That's a goal for us these next two weeks.

“I think there's been plenty of testing times (this year) but the fact that I've been able to come out the other end I guess gives you a lot of confidence for whatever lays ahead.”