“He’s been a real positive influence,” said coach Dave Rennie of Cooper this week. “He and Noah are sitting down all the time, talking about various options.”
Lolesio and Cooper were both born in Auckland. At age three, Lolesio moved to the Gold Coast, while Cooper relocated to Brisbane as a 13-year-old.
Earlier this week, Australia’s past and present playmakers took a trip to Mount Maunganui beach. No forwards, no other backs – just Cooper and Lolesio. They grabbed a quick coffee and had an even quicker swim. The water temperature was around 14 degrees.
“It was freezing,” Lolesio said. “We were probably in there for ten seconds and then we left. “We’ve been spending heaps of time talking about footy. He’s been really good to me and very genuine. He doesn’t have to be. He’s been there, done that.”
Like the icy water in the Bay of Plenty, Eden Park has been a shock to the system for Wallabies teams in years gone by. In Cooper’s first outing there a decade ago, the Wallabies trailed 17-0 after 27 minutes.
Lolesio now gets his first chance to test himself on Kiwi soil at international level. The stadium has become synonymous with Australian near-misses, brutal defeats and a sea of black jerseys in the stands making life hell for visiting Wallabies teams.
Just ask the Wallabies sides who have suffered defeats at Eden Park in 20 straight games over the past 34 years, 11 months and two days.
“I’ve only played there once against the Blues in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman,” Lolesio said. “It’s a massive stadium. It’s unreal I get the chance to play the All Blacks tomorrow.”
Teammates sometimes catch Lolesio yawning on game day. He is a relaxed customer, yet knows how and when to flick the switch. Two years ago, Lolesio jokingly asked Brumbies coach Dan McKellar what the word pressure meant.
“That’s just the attitude he has,” McKellar said.
Lolesio believes pressure is more intrinsic than extrinsic. He focuses on the high standards he sets himself, not the expectations of a rugby nation hoping the prodigious 21-year-old can spearhead a famous victory against the odds.
“I’ve honestly learnt so much from this time last year to now,” Lolesio said. “Just around how to manage those nerves and anxiety moments.”
On debut in October last year, Lolesio had a shocker in Australia’s 43-5 loss to the All Blacks in Sydney. A week later, he came off the bench in Brisbane and put the polish on a 24-22 victory that few saw coming.
“Obviously my debut wasn’t the greatest but how I bounced back from that I was really happy with,” Lolesio said.
It has since dawned on Lolesio that he is not defined by a scoreboard, nor what people think. He aims to prepare well, wants to enjoy the contest, and show others how proud he is to have the Australian coat of arms on his chest.
“The game isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. I think I’m still trying to work with that,” Lolesio said. “If I play a good game or bad game, I don’t want to let that affect me as a person.
“At the end of the day, the sun rises tomorrow. I am trying to treat a game like the fun part and whatever happens happens. As long as I do my best, that is all I can ask for.”
His cousin, Francis Saili, might have been a two-Test All Black, but Lolesio’s real hero was Sonny Bill Williams.
After Australia’s recent series win over France and a third Test where Lolesio scored 23 of the Wallabies’ 33 points thanks to some pinpoint goal-kicking, Williams made an observation on Stan Sport.
“He’s stepped up in this series in clutch moments,” Williams said. “You gain a lot of confidence from that.”
Lolesio is humbled when told of Williams’ praise.
“It’s pretty sick hey,” Lolesio said. “He was my role model growing up. I got to meet him briefly after the [Super Rugby AU] grand final against the Reds. I was so star-struck. He’s the man and done it all.”
O’Connor, Williams and now Cooper – talk about a trio.
Lolesio’s best might not be enough, however. Every player in a gold jersey needs to play out of their skin to outclass a daunting All Blacks outfit.
“We’ve got to be our best,” Lolesio said. “If we play Aussie style footy and everyone does their job at 100 per cent, then the result will take care of itself. I am very grateful for having those guys in my corner.”
Watch every match of the Bledisloe Cup and The Rugby Championship with live, ad-free and on-demand coverage starting on Saturday August 7 on Stan Sport.