Mark Telea debuted for North Harbour in 2016, but it wasn’t until last year that the 24-year-old was finally playing consistently enough to warrant a call-up to the Blues.
Come the end of the 2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa season, Mark Telea was the form wing in New Zealand.
That was no easy task, given the men he was competing with.
The Crusaders had Sevu Reece and George Bridge on their books – the All Blacks’ first-choice wingers at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, while the likes of Wes Goosen, Sean Wainui and Solomon Alaimalo were all experienced operators at Super Rugby level.
Closer to home, young sevens star Caleb Clarke also announced himself to the world with some eye-catching displays for the Blues – but it was Telea who had been his side’s go-to man from the moment that the Blues began their campaign back in January with a narrow loss to the Chiefs.
When the initial Super Rugby season was curtailed due to the coronavirus, Telea sat atop many of the key attacking metrics and had caused havoc for opposition defences.
With over 700 run-metres clocked and 47 tackle busts to his name, Telea was an absolute monster on attack. For comparison, Bridge was the second-best wing in both those measures, but was had 200 fewer metres earned and notched up half as many broken tackles.
Telea wasn’t quite so dominant in Super Rugby Aotearoa, but was still in the top five players for defenders beaten, and not much further down the list for metres run.
The opening game of the Blues’ Aotearoa campaign saw Clarke score an early try off a beautifully run line but, as if to remind the crowd that it was he had who been the big mover earlier in the year, Telea not long after went on one scorching run that needed four defending Hurricanes to bring him down. He also bumped two tacklers then offloaded to TJ Faiane to set up the Blues’ second try, and ultimately finished the match with 10 defenders beaten.
Heading into the new season, Telea has acknowledged that he’s certainly not the complete package just yet.
“As a player, you can’t come straight through and learn everything,” he said. “Some players grind it out and go through all the training and all the steps, and that is what makes you a better player.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 4, 2021
Telea admitted that he may have coasted at times during the early stages of his career, but some well-chosen words from Blues coaches Leon MacDonald and Dan Halangahu had reminded the 24-year-old that his future was in his own hands.
“Having come through the grades I had just taken every step as it came but coming into the Blues, Rangi [MacDonald] and Dan had told me about the opportunities I would have and for it was taking those opportunities when you can,” he said.
“I wasn’t the best player at the time – I’m still not the best player now, I’m still learning a lot of things – but for me, I wasn’t developed as a player and the coaches saw that.”
While there’s certainly room in Telea’s game for some improvement, he unquestionably has the right raw materials to stake out a long career with the Blues.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s recent announcement that he’ll make the jump to rugby union next season has no doubt produced many water-cooler conversations around where the code-hopper would best line up for the Blues, whose representative teams he played for as a teenager.
The common suggestion appears to be on the wing, at least initially, so that the Kiwis star can re-acclimatise to union. With Clarke and Telea in the set-up already, however, Tuivasa-Sheck won’t exactly be able to walk into the team.
The Blues’ campaign for 2021 kicks off against the Hurricanes on 27 February.
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