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Nawaqanitawase's Rugby World Cup start fulfils promise to grandma

By AAP
Australia's wing Mark Nawaqanitawase (R) celebrates with teammate Australia's full back Andrew Kellaway after scoring a try during the pre-World Cup rugby union international Test match between France and Australia at Stade de France in Saint Denis, on the outskirts of Paris on August 27, 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Four years after a prophetic pledge to his grandmother, one-time schoolboys rugby reject Mark Nawaqanitawase will make a dream World Cup debut for the Wallabies.

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Coach Eddie Jones has opted for Nawaqanitawase and fellow excitement machine Marika Koroibete as his wingers for Australia’s tournament opener against Georgia in Paris on Sunday morning (AEST).

While his selection is no surprise after a series of eye-catching performances for Jones and his predecessor Dave Rennie since debuting on last year’s spring tour of Europe, Nawaqanitawase has recalled how he was almost lost to rugby.

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Overlooked for the first XV in his final year of high school in Sydney, Nawaqanitawase had planned to venture to New Zealand in 2019 to “see what that could lead to”.

“I went to Saint Pat’s and the highest I made there was seconds, a bit of a kick in the backside,” he told AAP.

“I was actually going to go overseas.”

But now-Australian sevens coach John Manenti was having none of it.

“John was actually a big part of my life,” Nawaqanitawase said.

“His son is one of my good mates from St Pats – we were in the same year – so John’s been watching me all my life.

“He heard I was going to New Zealand and was like, ‘No mate, just stay’.

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“So he managed to hook me up with a trial with Shannon Fraser at the (NSW) Waratahs Academy.

“It was just after the HSE.”

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The classy back performed so well in the trial he was not only recruited by the Waratahs but also made the under-20s Junior World Cup team in 2019. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was also four years ago, when Nawaqanitawase was only 18 and watching the Wallabies at the last World Cup in Japan, that he told his ‘nonna’ Lorraine he would be representing Australia at the 2023 global showpiece in France.

“It’s funny that she remembers me saying to her that I’ll get to a World Cup, the next World Cup,” he said.

“It’s pretty crazy to think that four years ago now I said that. It’s been a pretty crazy ride.”

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