How tomorrow's Wallabies turned the tide against their neighbours and rocketed Noah Lolesio from one state to the next
Noah Lolesio entered 2020 without a single Super Rugby cap to his name.
When the new season kicked off, however, the 20-year-old was thrust immediately into the spotlight – and quickly helped guide the Brumbies to five wins from six matches.
Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has refused to rule out cutting an Australian Super Rugby team due to budget constraints:
As fast as he swings the ball out to his midfield runners, Lolesio was fast to pass the credit onto his teammates.
“I didn’t find it as challenging as I was expecting at all thanks to all the great players around me,” Lolesio told RugbyPass. “I’ve just been doing my job for my team and enjoying my footy.”
It’s not just the way that Lolesio has been performing that’s so impressive though, it’s the fact that until recently, the Brumbies pivot played almost exclusively in the midfield.
That hasn’t stopped Lolesio from defying his age and looking like one of the calmest operators in this year’s now suspended Super Rugby season.
And while the Brumbies were cruising along nicely prior to the coronavirus-induced roadblock, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing throughout Lolesio’s career.
Three years ago, Lolesio represented the Australia Schools side in their annual clash with their New Zealand rivals.
NZ have had always had the upper-hand in the age-grade battles between the neighbouring nations, but 2017 was an especially disheartening result for the men in gold.
“We got thumped,” Lolesio accurately said of the 34-11 loss.
New Zealand ran in six tries in the spanking with the likes of Etene Nanai-Seturo, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Danny Toala all touching down for scores.
Australia’s sole try came through prop Darcy Breen.
It may have become widespread in Europe, but for the Southern Hemisphere-bred folks like Matt Giteau, this little convention is still a bit of a mystery… @giteau_rugby #rugbyhttps://t.co/iTJAmKhL0L
— Tom Vinicombe (@TomVinicombe) March 31, 2020
Lolesio – who was alongside current Super Rugby players such as Will Harrison, Angus Bell and Jordan Petai – doesn’t remember the game fondly.
“I just think we were pretty filthy on ourselves in schoolboys. We were pretty heartbroken after that New Zealand game.”
Two years later, and a number of those same players were back in Wallabies colours for the Under 20 campaign.
As with the schoolboys side, the Junior Wallabies had not had much luck in recent years; between 2012 and 2018, Australia’s best placing at the Under 20 World Championship was 5th, which they ‘achieved’ on three occasions.
They turned things around completely for 2019, however.
In the Oceania Cup, the warm-up to the World Championship, they secured their first-ever victory over the New Zealand Under 20 side in 12 attempts, 24-0.
“In that Oceania Cup we really wanted to make a statement that we’re not a pushover team, we wanted to win the whole World Cup,” Lolesio said.
“We were definitely up for the game against the Junior ABs and it’s good that we brought that momentum forward through to the World Cup and just, unfortunately, fell a bit short in that grand final but I’m sure we made everyone back home pretty proud.”
A 1-point loss in the final to France was nothing to shake a stick at and bodes exceptionally well for Australia’s future.
But what caused the massive change in fortunes, given that a similar side was thumped two years prior?
“Probably mentally and physically we were just much better,” suggested Lolesio.
“The academy pathways over all the franchises helped our skills. I thought Gilly [coach Jason Gilmore] did an awesome job, picking the right shape and game plan for the players that we had.
“We were a pretty tight group as well; I reckon that’s probably what got us up over a bunch of teams. There weren’t any cliquey groups or anything. I’d say that’d be a major factor.”
While Lolesio had Harrison playing alongside him at 10 in both campaigns, Reds star Isaac Lucas joined the Under 20 side in 2019 as another playmaking option. All three men have started at first five for their respective Super Rugby sides this season – something which Lolesio is exceptionally proud of.
“It’s good to see the mates that you grow up with playing footy do well outside of school,” Lolesio said. “Harro and Zaccy, they’re awesome players and deserve every bit of it.”
There’s naturally still plenty of development room left for the young first five – development he hopes to continue at the Brumbies, despite growing up on the Gold Coast and being schooled at The Southport School.
“All I wanted to do after school was go to uni and play footy,” Lolesio said.
“I had a couple of offers in the Gold Coast and in Queensland too but the Brumbies came up with a uni scholarship and an academy spot and I probably wanted to experience something different as well, I didn’t want to just get stuck in Queensland.
“So, I basically just booked a one-way ticket to Canberra.”
Queensland’s loss is the Brumbies’ gain, with the Auckland-born playmaker now thriving in ACT colours.
Whether we’ll bare witness to any further Super Rugby this year is still up in the air – but if the Brumbies do take the field once more, you can bet that Lolesio will have a large say in the side’s future performances.
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