Will Genia's journey from "fat little bloke" to Wallabies centurion

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

When Will Genia first came into the Queensland program, he and his father were called in to meet with then-Reds coach Eddie Jones.

Jones remembers sitting down with a “fat little bloke” who had a reputation for not working hard enough and laying out what he expected of the teenager.

This weekend, Jones will be on the other side as that kid plays his 100th Wallabies Test, a sign of the work Genia has put in since that day.

“I remember this fat little bloke in the academy,” Jones told reporters in London on Monday.

“They said, “Nah, he doesn’t work hard enough”.

“I remember having a meeting him and his dad – I think his dad was an education minister for Papua New Guinea – we had a bit of a chat about what he needed to do and where he needed to go and I never saw a boy work as hard as him.

“I can always remember on a Thursday when we didn’t train he’d always come up and get a bag of balls and practise his box kicking.

“It’s a real tribute to him how hard he’s worked and what a great player he’s been for Australia.”

Will Genia made his Wallabies debut in 2009. Photo: Getty ImagesGenia will become the 10th Australian and second halfback to reach the 100-Test milestone, nine years after making his Wallabies debut in flanker George Smith’s Test century.

It says a lot about Genia’s durability that just 11 of his 99 Tests have come off the bench - his first four and last week’s Test against Italy making up almost half of those.

Only four of his internationals have come as captain - in 2011, 2012 and 2013 - but vice-captain Genia is a spiritual leader of this team in many ways.

In his time around the Wallabies fold, Genia has seen ups and downs under three national coaches, but his passion for the team has never been as strong as it is today even after one of the team’s toughest seasons.

“I love this team,” he said.

“It’s like a family, it’s the most I’ve ever felt part of a team.

“Whether it’s because we’re staying tight because things aren’t going well or whatever it is, I don’t know, but it’s a group where there is so much belief and so much faith in what we’re trying to achieve.

“Whether we win or lose we bust our backsides to work hard on the training field and we make sure we enjoy ourselves off the field and get to enjoy each other’s company.

“That doesn’t always necessarily translate to results but it certainly helps. I love this team, I’m a believer and I’ll be a believer until I am not here.”

It’s that love that makes it hard for Genia to pick out a career highlight, though he’s had a few, simply appreciative of the environment he has so often found himself in.

“Just the fact that I have been lucky to be around this group for a long time.I know that's pretty broad in general but you don't think about specific wins and losses in general and things like that,” he said.

“I have always just enjoyed coming into camp, spending time with my teammates and wanting to be better and the best I can on the world stage. I guess prove myself.

“I have enjoyed that opportunity over the last nine-10 years.”

Genia was reluctant to make the conversation about himself, keen to stress his focus was on the team and a huge 2018 finale against England, but said 100 Tests would be as big an achievement as any in his career.

“It’s one of those things where you have to suppress that emotion because it’s obviously a big test and all about the team,” he said.

“It will be really special getting the opportunity to get out there and play 100 Tests and everybody says it but I never thought I’d get one, let alone two three four five and then 50 Tests.

“It would be one of my biggest achievements if not my biggest achievement getting the opportunity to play 100 Tests for my country.

“I’ll hopefully celebrate it with a win afterwards. All the focus will be on just getting ready as a group.”

Most of Genia’s family will be in London for the game - wife Vanessa and daughter Olivia have already arrived, along with his parents, while his siblings, nieces and nephews and some friends  are all making the trip.

“They will all be here, I need to get to get some tickets and I am struggling,” he said.

“My mum and dad are here, my wife and daughter got in yesterday, my brothers, sisters, their kids, friends. They get here Wednesday and Friday so there will be a fair few people.”

Three-year-old Olivia is one of Genia’s greatest motivators - his signature try celebration involves a tribute to her - and while she’s only really beginning to realise what his job is, he hopes she can look back with pride one day.

“She's one of the reasons that I have refound my enjoyment in the game and why, from my perspective I have played some decent rugby,” he said.

“I just want her to be proud of me and look back on and be able to say, “My dad was good at what he did.” That is very much a driving force for me.”

There is no question after 99 Tests that Will Genia is good at what he does but a win over England in his 100th Test would certainly add another chapter to his illustrious list.

The Wallabies take on England on Saturday November 24, kicking off at 3pm local, Sunday 2am AEDT, LIVE on beIn Sports and SBS.