Former demolition man Hunter Paisami has revealed how copping the silent treatment from coach Dave Rennie has turned him into a better Wallaby.
It is a sign of the giant strides taken by Paisami that, amid all the speculation on positions, his spot in the centres was never in doubt for Wednesday night’s first Test against the French at Suncorp Stadium.
He started 2020 as an unknown yet his smart and powerful running lines and hammering tackles have become highly prized by Rennie.
Centre Paisami, 23, has worked hard on adding different flavours to his game with more passing subtleties and kicking qualities.
That little dab for the Queensland Reds to set up the match-winning Jordan Petaia try to sink the Brumbies on full-time in Canberra this year has been the highlight of this new kicking prowess so far.
There is so much the rugby fan doesn’t see when the Wallabies are in camp and developing skills to become the full package.
Big tackles were easy for Paisami. For a quietly-spoken youngster, born in Samoa, finding his voice in the backline was far harder.
Paisami revealed a clever Rennie trick to get him to communicate more before last year’s Tests against Argentina when he was paired with Petaia, another silent type, in the centres.
“At trainings before we played Argentina, Dave demanded the halfback and five-eighth not talk at all,” Paisami said.
“I had to. It was all about ‘hearing my voice’ a bit more and building my comms with the No.10.”
Paisami and Petaia were made to talk or the backline would not have functioned.
Paisami now nods approvingly: “At the Reds, James O’Connor has helped me a lot with the same thing in terms of being confident and having a louder voice.”
The extra confidence has flowed into his interviews. He was a guarded talker in stop-start sentences at the beginning of last year. He is far more at ease telling his story these days.
Like coming to Brisbane in 2019 when the Wests’ club and president Graham Brown helped him make a new start after a difficult split from the Melbourne Rebels.
Wests found him work with staunch club men Tony Buckley and Matt Dillman, co-owners of the BCD Group.
Paisami started as the rubbish man before moving on to demolition with jackhammers and tools in office strip-outs and the like.
“Wests did a lot for me and I’m still very grateful. I was on the tools smashing walls, things like that, with other mates from the club. It was good fun,” Paisami said.
Smashing opponents is good fun too as any French attacker wandering into Paisami’s path will soon discover on Wednesday night.
The Paisami mantra on defence is simple: “I’m not going to back down. Anyone who runs in my channel is going to be knocked over.”
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All Black Richie Mo'unga and now-teammate Matt Toomua can both vouch for that after being on the receiving end of Paisami specials last year.
Paisami has added 2kg to be 93kg but that’s still not big for a Test outside back. He just plays much bigger.
Like many of the Wallabies, he knows little of the French. You can only pick up so much from video. You really have to play Les Bleus to understand they do things differently with their support lines and defensive set-up out wide.
“I don’t know too much more than they have some big boys and they are physical. For me, my focus is on doing my job well,” Paisami said.
“I’ve worked hard on adding little things to my game with passing and kicking and hopefully that shows this season.”
Paisami doesn't plan to give up any of the physical power that has got him to Test level but adding new assets on top can only be good for the Wallabies.