Eden Park has been the graveyard for the Wallabies, but for Jordan Petaia this month's visit allowed some light to be shed in what’s been a “dark year” for the 20-year-old.
Three months after the sudden death of his dad Seiuli Salatielu to a heart attack, Petaia managed to at long last see his late father’s siblings during the Wallabies' ill-fated trip to Auckland for Bledisloe II.
“I had a lot of family in Auckland that were able to get out – about 20-30 that were there,” Petaia told RUGBY.com.au ahead of his return to the Wallabies’ starting lineup for Bledisloe III in Sydney on Saturday.
“It was awesome.
“My dad has three brothers and one sister, so I was able to reconnect with them after a while and it was good to see them and talk about some things. It was good for them to see me; they were happy to see me playing.
“It was not a good game, but I was happy for them to be happy for me to be playing and shed a bit of light on such a dark year.”
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The death of Petaia’s father came as a complete shock in early August. He was 57.
Less than a year earlier, Petaia’s father and mother had watched him score on debut against Uruguay in the World Cup in Oita. A fortnight later he was Michael Cheika’s bold selection call, as the Wallabies coach picked him to start at outside centre against England in the quarter-final.
The Wallabies might have lost, but Petaia’s stocks only rose after a stunning performance in just his third Test.
Petaia returned to Australia and seemingly he had the world at his feet.
But nothing could have prepared Petaia for what he would endure in 2020.
“It’s been pretty tough,” Petaia admits.
“I’m still not over it, but, I mean, it’s just about getting your head around what’s happened. That first week it happened it was a real shock to everyone.
“It’s just been a s**t year, I guess, and then having that happen, it was just f**king; I went to a pretty dark place.
“But having the friends and family I do, and the support of the Reds family and everyone around me, it made it, not easy, but better to cope with.”
As 2020 would have it, not even Petaia’s immediate family will be able to watch him run out for his first Test on home soil.
With the borders still not open between Queensland and Greater Sydney, Petaia’s family would have to quarantine in Brisbane and miss the fourth Bledisloe Test a week later if they were to make the trip down for Bledisloe III.
Despite his hellish year, Bledisloe II allowed Petaia to take on the All Blacks and return to the field where he looks most comfortable in life.
“Yeah it was really special to me, first time versing the All Blacks actually,” the softly-spoken back said.
“It was good to finally face that first haka and be out there again with the boys, especially after the year, so it was good.
“I was just thinking of embracing it (the haka) and taking in the energy that they were giving off, so it was good to feel that and let that fuel you for the game. It was pretty special.”
Having made an electric return to the Wallabies side in Bledisloe II off the bench, Petaia will wear the 13 jersey at the Olympic Stadium. Undoubtedly, his late father will be looking down.
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