"I hated that dude": Perenara's unusual tribute to centurion Whitelock

The Rugby Championship
by Iain Payten

TJ Perenara loves having Sam Whitelock as an All Black teammate. When they were on rival teams growing up, not so much. 

In fact, Perenara doesn’t mind admitting he used to feel the polar opposite emotion for Whitelock.

“It’s funny with Sam, I grew up playing a lot of my footy against him before I was in this environment and I hated him,” Perenara said.

“Every time I passed it he’d clean me out and hold me down on the ground but he wouldn’t react to it, I’d be like ‘what’s this dude up to?”

Whitelock will become his 100th Test for the All Blacks this weekend against the Wallabies. 

The big Crusaders lock will be only the eighth New Zealander in history to achieve the milestone.

Perenara is happy he’s been able to call Whitelock a teammate for many of those Tests, after coming to understand - and hugely value - the abrasiveness he once despited.

"On the field, I thought ‘man, I hate this dude’ but then getting in the environment and getting to know his work ethic, his love for the game, his ability to just flick a switch and be in this killer mindset out on the field,” Perenara said.

"It’s hard to play against and it’s something that grind your gears when you’re playing against him but for someone to have that mindset and not care about what’s in his way each and every time he gets between those lines, it only brings everyone else up.”

Perenara said he came to realise the ice-cold attention from Whitelock on him as a halfback during a game was regarded as all-business by the … All Black big man. 

“He does it the same here, in training, it’s just a process for him, it’s part of his job, if he’s the defender next to the ruck, his job is to take out the nine so he takes out the nine,” Perenara said.

“He does his job well.”

Perenara will be hoping Whitelock can do that job well on Wallabies rival Will Genia, who he rates as one of the best running halfback in the world.

Stop Genia and you go a long way to beating Australia, he believes.

“His ability to spot a hole and punish teams when we give him opportunities is second to none,” Perenara said.

“For us we need to prepare and we need to know the reads that he’s looking for and that we don’t give him those sorts of reads. The more he gets going the better their team looks. For any team he plays in.

“If Will is going forward and making splits, their forward pack goes forward and their backs go forward. So it make stewier game a lot harder to contain. We will do our homework and make sure we don’t give him the opportunities to hurt us.”