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Beyonce, Izzy Perese and the Coleman factor stir up the Waratahs

Mon, 14/02/2022, 3:52 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
The Reds hosted the Waratahs in the final trial match of 2022.

Izaia Perese knows 2022 is going to be different for the NSW Waratahs because no one was singing and murdering Beyonce hits on the team bus last year.

The power-running centre is excited that the Waratahs revival has started already with the camaraderie and tight-knit bonds that all good teams have.

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Perese is realistic enough to know “the proof has to be in the pudding” which means a statement is needed in Friday night’s clash against the Fijian Drua at western Sydney's CommBank Stadium.

With the Moana Pasifika-Blues match postponed because of a COVID outbreak, the worst team of 2021 oddly finds itself in the showpiece slot to play the first game of the new Super Rugby Pacific competition.

It’s an early chance to show every Waratahs fan who suffered through the 0-13 horrors of 2021 that this is a team of vastly different standards.

Perese quickly points to new coach Darren Coleman as the bloke mixing the potion so differently to 2021 with his own style and demand for excellence in every role.

So just how does Beyonce fit in? The superstar singer could well have defended better than half the Waratahs outfit last year but that’s not what we mean.

“It’s definitely a style I haven’t seen before but it’s a style that is 100 per cent backed by the boys,” Perese said of Coleman’s coaching methods off the field.

“The bus ride from Roma airport (last Friday) was probably one of the funniest bus rides I’ve ever had in my professional career.”

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Coleman got every rookie in the Waratahs squad to sing a song on the bus en route to their lodgings before the trial against the Queensland Reds. Talk about out of your comfort zone.

Young Eastwood fullback Harry Wilson, the son of Wallabies great Dave Wilson, had to find something.

“He sang ‘Halo’ by Beyonce. His voice was shocking but that made it even better,” Perese said with a grin.

It was just another of Coleman’s methods to bond young bucks and old bulls.

He’s had players sit in a chair at training, in front of the whole squad, and tell a story of resilience from their own life.

“We do this thing where we sit in a chair and tell stories of resilience that go deep into our own stories and we tell them in front of the group. It brings us a lot closer,” Perese said.

It’s hard to know what corner of Perese’s life he would dig from. He had a dream call-up as a training member for two Wallabies tours as a youngster so the kid with behaviour issues at school was seemingly on his way.

He got itchy-footed at the Queensland Reds and headed to rugby league, played twice for the Brisbane Broncos and then his life came crashing down with stupidity.

In early 2020, he was dumped by the Broncos after being charged with a drugs-related offence. He pleaded guilty to supplying a dangerous drug but a supervision order and community service was a lucky escape from any conviction.

He has turned his life around and the Waratahs were his lifeline in 2021. He repaid them with a standout season of often ferocious line-smashing intensity. Some naive reads in a shambolic defensive system was the flipside.

“I’m really happy and content,” Perese said.

“I think the journey I’ve been through the last couple of years has been a journey I sort of had to take.

I wouldn’t take it back because I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”

To adapt from Beyonce’s Halo, he was the Waratahs’ fire when everything else was cold in 2021.

Speaking to Perese in Roma, he was upbeat, chatty and in a great space about the Waratahs and his young family.

Perese is just 24 and is already a father of three with twins Ardie and Rocco arriving in January as brothers to four-year-old Mackenzie.

The positive vibes came through in his play. He made a strong early run and drove Filipo Daugunu 10m backwards in one tackle as the 21-14 win over the Queensland Reds unfolded in Roma last Saturday night.

There was a verve and hardness to the way the Waratahs played and didn’t want to concede points. Someone has thankfully decided to concentrate on defence after the lamentable lack of attention last year. Jason Gilmore is defence coach.

“The type of footy that DC wants us to play, it’s hard, fast and very direct. Knowing our roles and getting it right is big. I’m sure that’s not all of it but I love everything he’s doing with the Waratahs,” Perese said.

“He brings high standards and he’s a coach you don’t want to let down.”

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Even at 24, Perese is now one of the older heads at the Waratahs, especially after becoming a Wallaby with his Test debut against Scotland late last year.

Part of being a better Waratahs team has been shedding the mindset of inferiority thrown at the team from every corner last year.

“We’ve got unreal talent here,” Perese said.

“The Waratahs have got rich history and have had very successful years in the past.

“I feel last year was probably at our lowest. I also feel like we have so much to prove this year.

“This first game is first impressions really. Proof is in the pudding, right. We are going out to win it and to win it convincingly.

“The Drua are an unpredictable team and we respect them. The key for us is to have really solid dual contacts when they run the ball to limit those offloads.”

If Perese starts where he left off in 2021, he’ll be in the chatter about potential Wallabies from the outset.

It’s all talk right now. The Waratahs know more than anyone that Friday’s scoreboard is now all that matters.

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