'He told me I wasn't going to play Super Rugby': The brutal rejection that helped turn an unwanted player into a Wallaby

Tri Nations
by Christy Doran

Two-and-a-half years ago Hunter Paisami approached Dave Wessels asking him what he had to do to get his crack and pull on the Melbourne Rebels jersey for the first time.

Wessels – halfway through his maiden season at the Rebels after joining from the Western Force – looked him in the eyes and didn’t mince his words.

“One day, I went up to Dave and I asked him ‘what do you want me to do to try and get a shot?’ He basically answered my question on the spot; I wasn’t going to play Super Rugby at all,” Paisami tells RUGBY.com.au.

“He said he wanted big centres and he basically told me - because I had another year left - if I get another opportunity elsewhere just take it because I won’t play.”

Paisami was left shattered.

“I was cut. I was gutted. I was 18. I was frustrated and gutted because he basically said, ‘I won’t be playing Super Rugby’,” Paisami recalls.

“In the back of my head I was thinking I still have one more year. I thought I’d just hold the bags.”

Soon enough, he wasn’t just holding the tackle bags, he was packing his own after being let go from the Rebels.

Paisami’s actions off the field – where he was involved in a serious indiscretion with a teammate that threatened to end his career before it had begun - had contributed to the Rebels farewelling the prodigious talent goodbye early.

It wasn’t as if the Rebels hadn’t recognised Paisami’s talent either.

After all, he was in their development squad and a part of their Rising program in the NRC too.

But as one Rebels official told RUGBY.com.au, Paisami was still a child and he simply wasn’t fit.

Paisami was left with two options. Kick cans or do something about it, he chose the latter.

And after a conversation with his agent Anthony Picone he decided to head to Brisbane.

All along though, Wessels’ words rung in his ears.

“As soon as I got into that drama I knew they were going to let me go because they had wanted to do so for so long, but I was gutted,” Paisami says.

“Brisbane wasn’t really a plan to go to. My manager was telling me to go to Shute Shield or New Zealand and try to get into the ITM. But I went to Brisbane and I was working with a few of the boys and I just wanted to train my arse off and try and get back into that system and get an opportunity.

“I got one with Brisbane in the NRC and I knew we were playing against Melbourne at some stage, so I just channeled my anger out there. That was probably the only game I wanted to play.”

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Since then Paisami has made every post a winner.

He took his chance off the bench for the Reds in their final trial game against the Waratahs and was included in Brad Thorn’s first team against the Brumbies way back on the first weekend of Super Rugby in January.

He’s since featured in everyone of Dave Rennie’s Wallabies squads in 2020 and started at No.12 – the first time he had played inside centre in his professional career – in their Bledisloe IV win over the All Blacks.

Quite the feat for a youngster considered not good enough for Super Rugby.

“Nah, I never thought I’d be here to be honest,” Paisami reflects. “Not even at the Reds.

“I thought I’d have at least two to three years at club rugby to try and get a spot – any professional rugby overseas or here in Australia – but I’m just happy that I got the opportunity to go and train with the Reds and got a contract at the end of pre-season to play.

“It feels unreal. Not many teams do that - win against the All Blacks.”

On Saturday, he’ll wear the No.12 jersey for the second time in his burgeoning career when he faces the Pumas.

Outside him is another man with immense talent: Jordan Petaia.

The Reds duo have the potential of becoming the long-term Wallabies midfield combination.

It’s something that Petaia, whose path to the Wallabies was destined from the moment he graced the field for the Reds when he debuted as a 17-year-old, joked about earlier in the year.

“I think it was before the Reds’ game in South Africa he told me that I think it’s time to play in the centes with me,” Paisami says.

“I was like nah, I don’t think that’ll ever happen.”

The dream is now the reality for these two.