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'Happy place': Waratahs' Perese 'gamble' pays off as he commits long-term

Tue, 08/03/2022, 3:29 am
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Izaia Perese leads a Waratahs attempt to close the gap against the Crusaders in Wollongong

He refers to it as his 'happy place.'

Having gone through all the ups and downs of professional sport at such a young age, Izaia Perese has rejected any rumours of a code switch after signing with the Waratahs until 2024.

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Perese has been a revelation since joining the club, winning the Matt Burke Cup in his first year with the Waratahs before earning a call-up for the Wallabies end-of-season tour.

Reflecting on his journey to reporters, the 24-year-old admits time in France made him appreciate what he had in Australia, having burst onto the scene with the Reds as a teenager.

“I think it all stems back to being in France knowing what I had taken for granted," he believes

"Coming back here in an environment where it’s such an accepting environment regardless of what’s happened in the past and then going onwards to a great bunch of lads where there are no egos involved, everyone loves to learn from each other and we all help each other.

“We all hold each other accountable but we’re also great mates off the field as well. We’re a tight-knit group as well as (the) coaching staff. We’re onto something pretty exciting and I just want to stick around because it’s my happy place."

The Rebuild

Perese came to NSW at one of the lowest points in his professional career, forced to rebuild after being stood down by the Brisbane Broncos due to drug-related offences.

He struggled in France being away from his young family, leading to the move back to Australia.

With all this considered, Perese understands the 'risk' the club took in picking him up just weeks before their season started, eager to pay it back.

“The opportunity the Waratahs gave me when I first came from France, they took a huge risk on me because they don’t know (what I would bring), I was in headlines before leaving France on drug charges so they didn’t know what they were getting with me," he admits.

“In that sense, they took a huge gamble on me and I’m forever grateful and that played a huge factor into why I wanted to stay and hence why I am trying to do my best week in, week out is to least I can do to make this team great again.”

Waratahs assistant coach Jason Gilmore was well aware of what Perese could do at his best, having coached him during his school years at Churchies.

The lengths to which he had 'fallen' shocked Gilmore, who provided the character testimony that ultimately sealed his signing.

“It was obviously a big thing because he had a chequered past, coming out of the Broncos and France didn’t go too well for him,” Gilmore said.

“I was probably a little bit shocked myself, just how low he had fallen. Being away from home in France was the last thing he needed, he needed stability around him and my message to the Waratahs in knowing Izaia was he is a quality human and he always has been.

”He is not the first young bloke to make a mistake and he's not going be the last. I had full confidence if we could provide a stable environment for him, where he wasn’t club-hopping and he had his family close by, I knew the performances would come.

"We really had to help him off the field, give him that stability and I think we are just starting to see the rewards for it now.”

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Reaping the success

Perese credits the welcoming and accepting group that greeted him at Waratahs HQ as the catalysts for his strong performances, earning a call-up for the Wallabies against Scotland.

“I don’t think I play the footy I am if it wasn’t for the players around me. It’s definitely the boys bringing the best out of me and hopefully, I’m doing the same,” he said.

“The genuineness of the group (stands out the most) all the way from (CEO) Paul Doorn down, I wouldn’t say there’s any hierarchy to be honest.

“I just feel like this is been a team where I’ve really enjoyed being a part of…I’ve enjoyed being involved in teams in the past but I’ve really, really enjoyed my time here.”

Whilst a World Cup looms on the horizon, the centre's focus remained solely on repaying the faith shown in him nearly 14 months ago.

“The wins and the losses definitely hurt but what I want to do is now win with the lads. I want to go through that with the boys hence why I wanted to stay, I want to go through those times with the group that we have.”

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