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How the Waratahs plan to bounce back from winless 2021 campaign

By AAP
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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Bus-trip karaoke and vulnerable revelations of personal resilience have stripped the NSW Waratahs of last year’s historically heavy baggage.

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New coach Darren Coleman — fresh off a title with the LA Giltinis in the USA in their inaugural season — has brought his unique spin to things since arriving at Daceyville to resuscitate a Tahs side that lost every game last year.

And the players have responded, Wallabies centre Izaia Perese doing his best to describe the atmosphere before Friday’s crucial season opener against Super Rugby Pacific debutants Fijian Drua.

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“It’s definitely a style I haven’t seen before, but it’s a style that’s 100 percent backed by all of us,” he said of their trip to far-flung Roma on the weekend to play the Queensland Reds.

“The proof’s in the pudding; the bus ride here was probably one of the funnest I’ve had.”

Perese said a terrible rendition of Beyonce’s Halo was a highlight, while the mood shifted when each player was sat on a chair and asked to detail an example of them overcoming adversity.

“We go deep into our stories of resilience and that brings us closer,” the 24-year-old said.

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“The camaraderie; everyone loves each other, everyone’s equal.”

Brisbane-born Perese has his share of those stories to tell.

Plucked from the Queensland Reds as a 20-year-old to join the Wallabies squad, Perese then shifted to rugby league where his NRL career was just two games in before a drugs charge resulted in him being booted from the Broncos.

An unhappy stint in French rugby followed before the Waratahs provided a crucial second chance that he accepted gleefully by being one of the bright spots of a gloomy 2021 campaign.

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“I feel really happy and content; the journey I’ve been through on the last couple of years was a journey I had to take,” Perese, who is now a father of three after the birth of twins in January, said.

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“I wouldn’t take it back because I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”

While one of the more experienced heads in the side, there is another layer of wisdom since the arrival of 35-year-old British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts.

Perese said his presence had already added plenty but that the tone had been set early by Coleman, a former five-eighth with a rich coaching history in NSW club rugby.

“We’ve always had the talent, DC has brought very high standards, you don’t want to let him down,” he said.

“And that was known early; you don’t want to slip up or not know your role or he’ll put you on show, and you don’t want that.

“We’ve had years of success but last year was our lowest so we’ve got so much to prove and we’ve got each other’s backs.”

Those routine floggings can be consigned to the past on Friday in Parramatta if the Waratahs can smother the free-wheeling offence of the tournament rookies.

“We’re not taking the Drua lightly at all; the first game is like first impressions and we’re going in to win and win convincingly,” Perese said.

“With the Drua the key is solid, dual contact.

“That ball’s just a bar of soap, when they get it out to offload they’ll score, so we need to shut that down.”

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