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‘Always back myself’: Daniel Rona’s ‘crazy’ rise in Super Rugby Pacific

By Finn Morton
Daniel Rona with the ball in hand for the Chiefs. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Daniel Rona had one goal when he was called up for the Chiefs’ preseason as an All Blacks replacement player, and that was to make his Super Rugby Pacific debut.

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But if you told him how his life and career was about to change this season, Rona wouldn’t have believed you. Even now, the centre described the last few months as a “pretty crazy” experience.

Rona is only on a “development contract” at the Hamilton-based franchise, but has proven himself to be one of the finds of the season.

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After making his Chiefs debut off the bench against the Highlanders in March, he’s gone on to start five matches for the ladder-leaders.

In a team full of superstars, the rising star has been an unsung hero for the Chiefs in some of their toughest games this season.

Rona, whose half-brother Curtis played for the Wallabies, scored his first career try in the hard-fought win over the high-flying Hurricanes in Wellington last month.

Normally, Rona would be working as a concreter – but said he’s “loving not being on the tools” as he continues to chase his rugby dream with the Chiefs.

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“If you told me at the start of the year I would not only make my Super Rugby debut but I’d be starting three, four weeks in a row…  (it’s) pretty crazy,” Rona told RugbyPass last week.

“I’m just loving it, loving my time here, I’m loving not being on the tools.

“I want to be a full time rugby player and at the moment that’s what I am.

“I’ve always believed that I was good enough to make it, I always back myself.

“I just knew that it would come eventually if I kept working hard and I’m lucky enough that it’s starting to take off.”

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Ahead of their trip to Dunedin to face the Highlanders in round 11, coach Clayton McMillan and the Chiefs have welcomed back All Blacks veteran Anton Lienert-Brown.

The “world-class” centre injured his ankle in the opening match of the season, but is set to return on Friday night.

Lienert-Brown will make his 100th appearance for the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium, and will line up in the midfield alongside Rona.

“It makes my job a lot easier knowing that all I have to focus on is my job because everyone around me is going to do their job and do it well,” Rona added.

“Anton Lienert-Brown and Alex Nankivell are world-class midfielders so just being able to learn off them and to train with them every day and see how they go about their week has helped me out so much.

“Little pointers here and there and how to be a professional I guess.

“I’m just trying to soak up as much as I can off those fellas.

“They’re good, they’re tell you straight up what you’ve done wrong and how to fix it so they won’t really sugarcoat it.”

Rona may have ticked off his one individual goal for the year, but the team are chasing the ultimate prize as a collective this season.

The Chiefs have started their season with a perfect nine wins from as many games, and currently sit in first place on the ladder.

Rona said that “there’s a lot of belief in this franchise” that they can go the distance this season.

“The start of the year, my one goal was to make my Super Rugby debut and anything above that is just a bonus and I’ve ticked that off.

“I’ve ticked my one goal off this year so now it’s just focusing on every opportunity I get, just to put my hand up and do my job the best I can and try to help this team win a championship.

“There’s a lot of belief in this franchise right now that we can do it so I guess just nailing my role week-in, week-out, and try and help this team get the win.”

The Chiefs will take on the Highlanders at 7.05pm NZST on Friday night at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium.

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Tomasi 418 days ago

Has been brilliant for Taranaki for the last few years.

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