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How Hunter Paisami climbed from building sites to Wallabies regular inside a year

At 180cm and 90 kilograms, Paisami had done well to play for the Australian Schoolboys from Victoria, and then represent Melbourne in the NRC. But Wessels felt he was too small to play centre at the top level.

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Now in Brisbane, Paisami had no Super Rugby contract, no family, no friends and nowhere to sleep other than a spare bed in his agent’s office, in the inner city suburb of Kangaroo Point.

While starting fresh with Queensland Premier Rugby club Wests, the only work Paisami could find was labouring gigs through a recruitment company.

“But it wouldn’t ever be at one spot. It would be all around Brisbane. I would get a job text about 9pm, just before I would go to sleep, saying ‘Be here at this time’,” Paisami explained to the Herald.

“I didn’t have a car, I had nothing. I had a bike. I was biking around and had to plan my journey around what time I had to leave home. It was crazy.”

Having barely coped without family, friends, a solid job or a place to live, it was a ride to a job site one morning that eventually drove Paisami to breaking point.

Paisami stopped halfway up one of Brisbane’s steepest hills just as the hot, humid Brisbane weather kicked in.

“I was trying to stop a car to try and get someone to help me, to take me up the hill,” he said.

“No one pulled over, so I rode back home.

“[Agent] Anthony [Picone] asked why I wasn’t at work. I told him I was told to go home early because there was no jobs. He thought that was interesting. Later on that day, the recruitment company called him and said ‘Hunter didn’t turn up’. They were off me then. They were yelling at me.”

Paisami phoned home. He was ready to return to Melbourne and call time on a rugby career which had never even reached the starting gate.

“I worked a few jobs but it was a struggle for me. There was one moment where I was going to give up and go home. Just before Christmas. I couldn’t do it,” Paisami said.

Paisami’s family urged him to stay in Brisbane, and keep at it.

Dave Rennie (right) addresses his players, including Hunter Paisami, in Cessnock.

Dave Rennie (right) addresses his players, including Hunter Paisami, in Cessnock.Credit:Stu Walmsley/Rugby Australia

He had played well enough for Wests to earn the opportunity to join Queensland’s pre-season training. Even Paisami understood this would be his last chance of playing professional football in Australia.

“I never thought I would get a shot at Super Rugby again, after what happened,” he said. “I had a few meetings with [Reds general manager] Sam Cordingley and he was asking questions about what happened.

Hunter Paisami challenges the Sharks defence in early 2020 before the pandemic shutdown.

Hunter Paisami challenges the Sharks defence in early 2020 before the pandemic shutdown.Credit:Getty

“They wanted someone in their team that suited their culture. My family were behind me. It’s a credit to them for telling me to stay, stay, stay in Brisbane. Hang on.”

Paisami did better than just hang on.

Having shown enough during pre-season to earn a bargain basement contract for 2020, and leave behind the labouring, Paisami made his debut for the Reds in round one, against the Brumbies in Canberra. And before long the hard-hitting centre began earning rave reviews.

Though a comparative bantamweight in the midfield at 90 kilograms, Paisami’s timing, aggression and power in contact saw more than a few big rivals flying backwards.

Hunter Paisami jersey during the first clash with Argentina.

Hunter Paisami jersey during the first clash with Argentina.Credit:Getty

And that direct, abrasive form had Dave Rennie very interested, and after a very strong debut season for the Reds, Paisami’s name was on the Australian team sheet when the new Wallabies coach picked his first squad.

Unlike other uncapped rookies who’ve spent the winter getting experience, however, Paisami was thrust into action by Rennie straight against the All Blacks in Wellington – and he has stayed in the team since.

On Saturday night, almost one year after Paisami nearly quit the sport, the 22-year-old and fellow Queenslander Harry Wilson will become just the second and third players in the professional era to play in every Wallabies Test in the same year they made their Super Rugby debuts.

The only other player to have achieved that feat was Israel Folau, in 2013.

Hunter Paisami poses in the Australian Wallabies 2020 First Nations Jersey.

Hunter Paisami poses in the Australian Wallabies 2020 First Nations Jersey.Credit:Getty Images

“The day it hit me was the day they named the team for the first Test,” Paisami said. “I was not expecting to be starting at all. I was just trying to fight for a spot on the bench.

“When my named popped up on the screen, I just went back to my room and started tearing up. It was emotional.

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“I was just thinking about my parents and everything they’ve done for me.

“I used to call them up and just be crying. I couldn’t get to work. I had a bike and that was it.

“My dad would tell me to just train hard. They helped pay my rent. They just wanted me to train hard.

“They’ve been there for me since I started and everything I do here is definitely for them.”

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