The moment Will Genia inspired Jordan Petaia to be a Wallaby

The Rugby Championship
by Iain Payten

They roomed together all week and ended it with a special kick-catch try in the Wallabies trial match at Leichhardt Oval.

But the connection between Will Genia and teenage Wallaby squad member Jordan Petaia goes back further, all the way to 2011.

And it is the reason why the star rookie is even playing rugby in the first place, and not off wowing NRL fans in the 13-man game.

The scene is the Super Rugby final at Suncorp Stadium in 2011, between Queensland and the Crusaders.

Petaia was 11-years-old - yes, eleven - and not only was he an NRL-mad kid at that age, he was at the decider with cousins who were Kiwi fans. And they'd given him a Crusaders jersey to wear.

"I was at the stadium when Will Genia scored that try to win it," Petaia said.

"It was a pretty surreal moment and it made me want to play union. I was playing league at that time.

"The (training camp) was the first time I met him, it was pretty surreal. Then even just rooming with him last week, that was surreal."

In a short interview this week in Cessnock, Petaia dropped the word "surreal" often and it's probably only fitting given his remarkable rise from schoolboy to Wallaby squad member inside a year.

Twelve months ago Petaia was in grade 12 at Brisbane Boys High School, studying for exams and playing in the GPS competition.

His dominance as a schoolboy had already seen him signed by the Reds at the start of 2017 but Petaia figured he'd be playing under 20s and progressing through academy systems.

He ended up being called up by new coach Brad Thorn to do pre-season training with the main squad.

"I was pretty surprised by that even, and then to go on and get a few games and come down to this, it's just all been quite surreal," he said.

To put his youth in context, Petaia didn't even turn 18 until March this year. But when you're good enough, you're old enough and Thorn gave Petaia a Super Rugby debut a month later on the wing.

He ended up playing 11 games.

Petaia has attacking potency with raw speed, defensive grunt with a100kg frame and an offload game he unveiled in a late-season move into the centres.

He set up the match-winning try for Jono Lance against the Rebels with one such piece of skill.

"I just focus on doing my job and just trying to do my role. I wasn't too focussed on getting a debut, I was just focussed on getting better," Petaia said.

It was the potential many in Queensland knew was there, including the Brisbane Broncos, who tried to sign the youngster in year 11.

He wasn't interested. They weren't to know he'd already been won over by Genia.

"I started off playing league when I was little, I was all about league. But coming into high school, with Brisbane State High being a union school, I found I loved that sport and made the switch," he said.

"I was always a Wallabies fan growing up. I loved watching those guys play, so I grew up watching that because all my cousins played union. I have always wanted to make it as a union player."

Michael Cheika was one of Petaia's biggest admirers during the season, and he called him into the Wallabies' squad for training ahead of the Rugby Championship.

He was the first person born in new millennium to wear Wallabies kit.

"I was pretty surprised when he called me, pretty stoked," Petaia said.

"I had plans for a little week off. I was just going to hang out with some mates, but nah, it's good to come in and keep working and get better. It's a real blessing."

Petaia would be the third youngest Wallaby on record if he won a Test debut this month, but in truth, that is pretty unlikely.

Even though a Wallabies debut is only a matter of when, not if, for Petaia, the teenager is in camp to learn the ropes and study at the feet of wise old men like Genia.

"Seeing a few of the bigger names like Israel and "Nard" (Bernard Foley) and other Waratahs boys coming in and seeing them bring in a real professional outlook on the game," Petaia said."I am just picking up on that. It's been good.

"(Cheika's message was) to just come down, have a run and get around it. Just train hard really. I suppose he wants me to just keep getting better and to try and pick up new things from the older boys."

The Wallabies take on the All Blacks in the first Bledisloe at ANZ Stadium on Saturday August 18, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO. Buy tickets here.