'Playing Bs was a bit of a kick in the guts': Young Reds star Tate McDermott's story of resilience
Tate McDermott was arguably the player of the round from week one of Super Rugby AU, with an impressive performance last Friday helping the Queensland Reds defeat rivals New South Wales Waratahs for the first time since 2013.
The Reds scrumhalf appeared to have an abundance of energy, constantly looking dangerous around the ruck with playmaking, kicking and general leadership that contributed towards the six-point victory.
He also crossed for five-pointer late in the first half, with a clever tap-and-go catching the Waratahs napping for a try that would make any scrumhalf proud.
McDermott was thrilled to have helped his state reclaim bragging rights, with many drawing parallels between the intensity of that match and rugby league’s State of Origin. He added that with the season being so short, that it was important that the Reds got their season off to a strong start.
“That win was absolutely massive for our playing group to start with, but for our fan base as well. They haven’t really tasted much success against our traditional rivals New South Wales in a while so it was a massive win for us, but it could’ve honestly been a lot better if we played to our full potential,” McDermott told RugbyPass.
“We’ve had a bit of time to watch across the ditch and see that if you aren’t going those early wins in, you slowly fall behind the eight ball there.”
While McDermott is heaping plenty of praise from Australian rugby pundits and fans alike, the 21-year-old isn’t getting ahead of himself even with Wallabies honours seemingly not too far away.
“If that opportunity ever presented itself, I’d like to think that I’d be ready for it. At the moment I’d be selfish if I was thinking about that because with all due respect to the people who have played for the Reds before, since 2011 we haven’t actually achieved much at all to be honest.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to play for the Wallabies. It’s definitely a goal and a dream of mine, but it’s hard to think about it at the moment when I’ve got a job to do for my state.”
But McDermott’s rugby journey wasn’t always smooth sailing; in fact it’s a story of resilience.
He decided to focus on rugby after the death of friend Matthew Barclay at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships, which was a challenge to overcome.
Moving from the Coast to live with his grandfather in Brisbane’s Eastern suburbs, McDermott attended Brisbane State High School for grade eight and half of nine, with recent alumni including Wallabies Jordan Petaia, Matt Toomua and Samu Kerevi.
“I went to a school that didn’t taste much success on the Sunny Coast, so I kind of wanted to push myself and explore the GPS which is notorious for being the best rugby competition in Queensland. I wanted to test myself against the best so I moved to Brisbane State High School, started there in grade eight.
“There was a bit of personal stuff going on at the time, I lost a pretty good mate of mine at a Surf Life Saving carnival so it was cumulation of things that led to me not really wanting to be in Brisbane at that time. I moved there for rugby so playing Bs was a bit of a kick in the guts.”
After a year and a half in Brisbane, he decided to move to Sunshine Coast Grammar where he failed to make representative teams, not even the Sunshine Coast Schoolboys.
He did however affirm that moving back to the Coast was the “best move I could’ve made” for his rugby career, as he stood out rather than being “just another player” among the talented pool of GPS players.
He caught the eye of Reds development officer Paul Carozza, who attended most of his games and included him in the Emerging Reds program.
McDermott made his first “real rep team” in his senior year at school with the Queensland Schoolboys, before being named on the bench for the Australian Barbarians – who are Australia’s second schoolboy side.
But when he graduated, the Sunshine Coast product may have fancied himself as a Sevens player but still made sure to make the most of a brief opportunity with the Reds.
“Nick Stiles was the Reds coach at the time, and before I’d played for the Australian Sevens team, I actually spent a week of pre-season [with the Reds]. Jason Gilmore who got me into the 20s program, asked me to come down and do a week with them.
“That was massive for me. I’ve always watched the Reds, I’ve always wanted to be a Red so to spend a week in pre-season with them was massive.”
At 18-years-old, he made his Australian Sevens debut in Wellington alongside some of sports biggest names.
“It was always in the back of my mind playing Sevens. I’ve loved watching people like James Stannard, Lewis Holland, Ed Jenkins, those kind of players.
“To be making my debut at 18 in Wellington, I was actually playing with James Stannard, it was massive for me and I absolutely loved it.”
After later turning his focus back to fifteens, McDermott admitted that he returned to play for the Reds, and was rewarded for his ambition in 2018.
Off the bench, the halfback made his Super Rugby debut against the Rebels in Melbourne.
Having played 14 matches throughout the 2019 season, he soon cemented himself as the first choice in Queensland colours.
McDermott was equal second for tries scored in Super Rugby before the COVID break, looking very comfortable at Super level.
After training one-on-one with former Wallaby Will Genia during the break, McDermott appears to have taken his game up another notch which has many people calling for his selection in the next national squad.
But the 21-year-old’s consistency will be up to the test on Friday when he starts at Brookvale Oval against the Rebels.
McDermott is expecting defence to play a major part in the result, with the Reds looking to secure back-to-back wins for the first time this year.
“It’s all about playing in the right parts of the field as well so that’ll be my job, that’ll be James O’Connor’s job as well. We’ve got to make sure that we’re directing team, similar to how we were on the weekend.
“They’re obviously a lot better than what they played on the weekend so by no means do we think that it’s going to be a walk-in, we’ve got a massive game ahead of ourselves.”
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