He holds the record for most tries by a Super Rugby halfback and this weekend notches a century for the Hurricanes, but TJ Perenara's proudest achievement may be inspiring Porirua prospects to chart a similar path to his.

Most know Perenara as the skillful, immensely competitive Hurricanes and All Blacks No 9. Few, though, appreciate he emerged from Mana College, a co-ed decile two school with under 400 pupils.

Unlike many talented prodigies who these days move to powerhouse schools on scholarships, Perenara played all his college and club rugby, with Norths, at home.

When Perenara attended Mana College, the small school in a rough area on the outskirts of Wellington had two rugby teams.


"We often have the odds stacked against us but that can be our biggest strength because we've only got the people around us to rely on and that's why we are so close," Perenara says. "That's something that shaped me as a kid. I'm very thankful for people I grew up with and around. It's an area that I love and respect and I'm proud to call home."

From the late Jerry Collins to the So'oialo brothers, Rodney and Steven; Ellison brothers, Tamati and Jacob, all the way through to Anthony Perenise, Alapati Leiua, Faifili Levave and Apisai Naikatini, Perenara knows off by heart all the Hurricanes to progress from Porirua.

Tamati Ellison may not be a high-profile All Blacks midfielder but when he turned up at Mana College it sparked something of a turning point in Perenara's rugby development, opening his eyes to the possibilities before him.

"I remember a day when Tamati came into my school and spoke about being a Hurricane and professional rugby player. Where we were from we were looked at as you play rugby and then you go onto work. He gave us hope that it didn't matter where you came from you could achieve a goal. I remember that speech vividly. That kept me on to give it
everything I had to the game of rugby."

Mixed with the work ethic instilled by parents Thomas and Fiona, Perenara harnessed Ellison's advice to make the most of his abilities.

"The Canes were the team I always supported. I didn't have the privilege of getting to a helluva lot of their games as a kid but I definitely watched them week in, week out. There were a lot of Porirua boys playing for the Canes when I was growing up so seeing them always gave us a little bit of hope. Having those sorts of influences was pretty cool.

"Watching the Canes was always exciting and it made you want to be part of it. They always played rugby and that's something even now we try and look back on and take things from the way they played."

Ahead of his 100th Super Rugby match against the undefeated Highlanders in Wellington this Saturday, Perenara is now the one providing inspiration.

At All Blacks level many of Perenara's 42 tests have been overshadowed by Aaron Smith, widely regarded as the world's premier halfback.

Comparisons are part of the industry but there is also a time to pause and recognise Perenara's attributes in isolation.

That time is now. From his support play which has yielded 45 tries for the Hurricanes to his pace, vision and staunch defence, Perenara's presence is integral to revolution this franchise has enjoyed over the past three years.

His record partnership with Beauden Barrett, one that surpassed George Gregan and Stephen Larkham's 80 matches for the Brumbies, provides the backbone and he has also captained the Hurricanes on many occasions.

Perenara's debut for the Wellington Lions arrived under Andre Bell when he was still at school after Piri Weepu broke his leg against Taranaki and Alby Mathewson received a call-up to the All Blacks.

Some eight years on, he constantly seeks continued improvement.

Perenara isn't after the accolades but, deep down, he'll know those in Porirua will proudly puff out their chests as he leads the Canes out this weekend.

"Being able to do it 100 times it is special and when I look back I'll be proud of it but I would rather win this week because it will put our team in a better position."