Jack Debreczeni’s return to New Zealand has been both a revelation and a statement of intent.
The 25-year-old has been through rugby’s wringer during the early stages of his career, but has once again hit his straps in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Hailed as a future Wallaby after a solid Super Rugby season in 2015, Debreczeni soon fell out of favour with the Rebels and took his raking punt to the Japanese Top League. After finding success with the Honda Heat in 2017, a return to Australia beckoned.
Rejoining the Rebels on a one-year contract this year, the playmaker showed flashes of a resurgence but was usurped by Wallabies midfielder Reece Hodge in the No. 10 jersey by season’s end.
At the conclusion of the 2018 Super Rugby season, Debreczeni joined Mitre 10 Cup side Northland on a two-year deal, where he has shown a commitment to sharpening his skills in pursuit of furthering his career.
“When I was in Japan last year, my uncle threw out a few messages to a couple of Mitre 10 [Cup] teams without me knowing,” he said. “He got a good response back and that was probably the first time I actually considered coming over.”
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to play. You watch it over the years in Australia and it’s a pretty good competition to watch.”
The shift across the Tasman also brings Debreczeni closer to family.
“I was born in Auckland. I was born in Middlemore Hospital in Otahuhu,” he said. “All of mum’s family still lives in South Auckland. She’s the only one who moved to Australia, so as a kid we would come over two or three times a year for holidays.”
The young playmaker already had a pre-conceived idea of what to expect when joining the Taniwha thanks to glowing reviews from a pair former Rebels teammates.
“Past relationships with Dan Hawkins and Murray Douglas, [they] had spoken nothing but praise for Northland, the club and the culture here so when the opportunity presented itself I jumped at the chance to come over here,” he said. “Playing for the Taniwha, for me, it’s a great honour with the rich history they have.”
Through Northland’s first eight games, Debreczeni has been a standout as he helps the side push for Premiership promotion.
Consistent minutes and a heavy workload in the No. 10 jersey has seen a return to form for the former Australian Schoolboys representative, racking up six try assists and scoring two tries for the Taniwha this season.
Three of his try assists came in the first half of a recent outing – a defeat against Hawke’s Bay – arguably his finest in Cambridge blue. He managed two try assists in 12 games for the Rebels this year.
The Mitre 10 Cup and New Zealand’s provincial rugby system has long been a tool for foreign players to advance their game.
Former England captain Martin Johnson spent two seasons with King Country in the early 1990s – he even represented New Zealand at junior level – while more recently Harlequins wing Nathan Earle impressed during a 2016 stint with Canterbury, and has since worked his way into Eddie Jones’ England squad.
Debreczeni is the latest relishing the opportunity to play in New Zealand.
“Just being around New Zealand, the most competitive environment for rugby players in the world, just getting over here and being amongst a competition where week to week it’s tough footy,” he said. “You’re testing your skills all the time.”
“Every country has its own way of thinking around rugby so getting out of my comfort zone – I’ve been in Australia all my life – to come here and see different structures and patterns, how players think and how coaches think has been good for me. Just adjusting to different things that rugby presents.”
The nature of the Mitre 10 Cup competition provides a tough test for players at any level, with tight scheduling and quick turnarounds wreaking havoc.
“You always want to be playing rugby rather than just running laps of the field,” Debreczeni said. “We’re in the middle of a ‘storm’ week now, or towards the end of the ‘storm’ week so we’ll find out on Sunday how the body feels.”
“You have to get over games pretty quickly and move on to the next week.”
The experience Debreczeni has gained from playing in the Mitre 10 Cup has been priceless and is an opportunity that players from overseas should pursue more frequently.
“I think Australia still needs to establish their competition so I’m not going to say ‘don’t play NRC’. I think it’s vital for Australian rugby that they have that competition,” he said. “But if an opportunity [to play Mitre 10 Cup] does present itself, I would jump at it because you’re throwing yourself in a new environment that’s probably one of the most competitive in the world.”
“You’re testing yourself against some of the best players in the world.
“There’s rivalries and there’s the Ranfurly Shield which makes things a lot more exciting, where I guess the NRC doesn’t have that at the moment because teams don’t have a long history.
“I would say to guys looking for opportunities at the end of the club season or towards the end of Super [Rugby], if they do have the opportunity to come over here I’d recommend it.”
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