Debreczeni forges fresh path in New Zealand

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

Jack Debreczeni hopes being freed from the shackles of expectation will help him write a new chapter in his Super Rugby career.

The former Australian schoolboys star and Rebels playmaker was long regarded as a Wallaby in waiting but never quite captured his best form in five seasons in Melbourne.

After finishing last season as Reece Hodge's understudy and left without an Australian Super Rugby contract, the Kiwi-born 25-year-old headed to New Zealand where he has impressed enough to win a contract with the Chiefs and a likely spot in the squad for this week's Super Rugby opener against the Highlanders in Hamilton.

That came as a pleasant surprise for Debreczeni, who linked with Northland in the Mitre 10 Cup with no guarantee of playing beyond the third-tier competition.

"I just went over because my uncle was hitting up clubs in Mitre 10," said Debreczeni, who has New Zealand heritage on his mother's side.

"I never thought it was a realistic opportunity to go over and play Mitre 10 and then my uncle went over and did the hard work for me and we connected with Northland.

"But going over, I didn't have any contracts, I wasn't in any talks with any Super Rugby clubs in New Zealand, so I just went over open-minded to anything that came along.

"I was fortunate enough to get the Chiefs to come along with (an offer) and I was excited to join them."

Jack Debreczeni is joining the Chiefs. Photo: Getty ImagesThe prospect of heading to another country would be daunting to most but Debreczeni said he found the situation freeing.

He has revelled in the rugby culture and training that has challenged his entire skill set.

"They just see the game a bit different, the way they train is different to how we train in Australia," he said.

In New Zealand, Debreczeni was just another player in the competitive Mitre 10 Cup, not the Trinity Grammar wunderkid destined to be a Wallaby.

"Heading over there, there were no expectations of me, no one really knew how I'd go being an Australian in a New Zealand comp," he said.

"Not many guys go that way, so there were no expectations and it was a bit freeing.

"And then joining a new environment - I'd been at the Rebels for five years and I'd got accustomed to everyone at the place - so going to Northland was fresh, it was sort of like the first day at school again and you had to be on your best behaviour and be on your toes."

Leaving Australia was difficult but Debreczeni said he was ready for a new challenge.

"My time in Australia, I felt, was done," he said.

"I'd stagnated due to my own doing, I'd stagnated in Australian rugby, so it was time for a new change, a new challenge and I thought it was the right time to have a crack in New Zealand.

"I think I was just a bit too inconsistent.

"I was up and down a lot of times at the Rebels and it probably didn't help that we went through a lot of change over multiple years and I just didn't adapt to that well personally, and that brought along inconsistent performances."

While he started at No.10 in the Chiefs' trials, Debreczeni is behind All Black Damien McKenzie at flyhalf but with the Kiwis' World Cup players to be rested at times this season, he is sure to see time on the field.

And he's just looking to make that count, refusing to get caught up again in talk of further representative honours.

Jack Debreczeni is set to face Beauden Barrett on Friday night. Photo: Getty Images"I'm just trying to make the Chiefs XV," he said.

"I've got to make it for the Chiefs first and then those questions (about international rugby) can come.

"But for the moment for me, it's just focussing on making that XV."

The path less travelled may have helped Debreczeni but he believes others need to have faith in Australia's development systems.

"I think NRC still has a big place in Australian rugby," he said after helping the Chiefs to a 21-19 win in their final trial against the Reds at Ballymore last Friday.

"If you look at Mitre 10 and how successful it is, Australia needs to keep putting time and effort into it to grow that third level of players and grow the depth in this country. So I would definitely say, stay with NRC.

"But if the opportunity comes to go over to Mitre 10 and you have New Zealand heritage, I would say, why not? Give it a crack."