Rugby: Perenara still working hard

By Daniel Richardson

TJ Perenara is one of the hardest working players in the Hurricanes set-up. Photo / Getty Images
TJ Perenara is one of the hardest working players in the Hurricanes set-up. Photo / Getty Images

Sporting cliches are thrown around quite often but the old "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard" can certainly be applied to Hurricanes' halfback TJ Perenara.

That's not to say the livewire No 9 isn't supremely talented but as his stock continues to rise, it's the extra effort that people don't see that has made him one of the most exciting players in this year's Super Rugby competition.

During the past few months Perenara has been one of the busiest players at a Hurricanes media session but he's also one of the last off the training paddock as he's out there clocking up more practice time.

Whether it be working on that snappy pass or his kicking game, the 20-year-old always appears to be doing something more, which is what coach Mark Hammett believes is the underlying reason for his success this year.

"He probably does more work than anybody else," Hammett said.

"He's hard working and I've been involved with him for the last couple of years but from what I'm told he's always been that person. He's really humble, he's the first guy to be back out at club training and to help out at club training. He asked me a couple of times during the year whether he could go back and play club rugby and that's the kind of person he is. He's got very strong values and he knows where he comes from and it doesn't surprise me that he's achieved what he has, but the exciting thing is that he will continue to get better."

Where the youngster does come from is Titahi Bay in Porirua; he attended Mana College and made his provincial debut for Wellington in 2010 while he was in his final year at the school as an 18-year-old.

That year he also played at senior club level for Northern United - the former stomping ground of Jerry Collins, Tamati Ellison and Christian Cullen - and while his club appearances will become less frequent in future you couldn't accuse Perenara of deserting his roots yet.

He still lives at home with his parents in Titahi Bay, although he jokes that he isn't sure they are happy to house him forever.

"When you get pots and pans for presents it's a bit of a hint," he laughed.

"I think they enjoy it. I enjoy going back and having a laugh and they keep me grounded. I'm just TJ at home, footy is irrelevant. It doesn't matter what I do ... they judge on what sort of person I am, not what I do for a living."

Perenara also has two older sisters who live in the same area and he said Sunday dinners are a regular occurrence where family members catch up and share a few yarns.

The topic of Perenara's exclusion from the All Blacks - which coach Steve Hansen said was down to his youth - might have popped up this year given his strong form, but the man himself said he hadn't let it bother him and in the back of the mind he wants to be on the plane for the end of year tour.

"I'd definitely love to be there; it is a goal. But first and foremost is making the playoffs for the 'Canes. That's No 1 for me at the moment."

There are those values that Hammett mentioned; it's team-first with Perenara, and the Hurricanes sit in sixth spot on the Super Rugby ladder as the competition is stuck in the middle of a three-week break due to the international window.

This year Perenara has pulled on the Hurricanes' jersey 13 times with 11 starts, and marked his starting debut for the franchise in emphatic fashion when he scored a hat-trick in round three against the Western Force in March.

Since then he's added another four tries, and his season haul of seven is the fifth-equal highest total in the competition alongside team-mate Julian Savea and Chiefs' wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma, while flying Hurricanes' fullback Andre Taylor leads the pack with 10 touchdowns.

Part of Perenara's rise in the No 9 food chain at the Hurricanes can be put down to the misfortune of Chris Smylie, who injured his shoulder before the season proper began, which ruined his campaign. He hasn't been sighted since.

Smylie was signed from the Blues to provide veteran experience in the halfback role this year, while journeyman Hawke's Bay No 9 Chris Eaton came into the season ranked higher than Perenara in the pecking order.

But, Smylie's ailment and two unconvincing performances from Eaton in the opening rounds opened the door for the rookie who has modelled aspects of his game on All Black Piri Weepu.

While making the All Blacks is only a matter of 'when' not 'if' for Perenara, he said there were no mixed feelings as he watched Aaron Smith and Weepu put in decent shifts at halfback in New Zealand's dominant 42-10 victory over Ireland in Auckland on Saturday night.

"It was cool seeing Aaron Smith and Piri, who's helped me a lot through my career, excel at the top level and Aaron played an awesome game. His service was great, his speed to the ruck, his running game was awesome and he's just setting the standard for halfbacks in New Zealand. If you want to be up there, that is how you've got to play."

Might be time for more of that hard work then, TJ.

- APNZ

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