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TJ Perenara in career-best fitness as long-awaited return nears

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

TJ Perenara hasn’t been seen in an official Super Rugby game since 2022. The halfback will be absent once more in the Hurricanes’ round two Super Rugby Pacific matchup with the Reds, but a return to action is nearing.

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The long road to recovery appears to have only strengthened the 32-year-old’s desire to represent his club and country again, denying overseas offers to re-sign with New Zealand Rugby for the 2024 and 2025 seasons shortly after a second Achilles surgery.

In his absence, the halfback landscape in New Zealand has changed drastically. Aaron Smith and Brad Weber have left the country, and Hurricanes teammate Cam Roigard has cemented himself as the top prospect in the No. 9 jersey, with a flurry of other youngsters throwing their hats in the ring.

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While a Super Rugby Pacific season is the 80-test veteran’s immediate challenge, he’s making no secret of his ambitions beyond that.

“I have massive aspirations to play for the All Blacks and represent our country,” Perenara told the Front Row Daily Show. “It’s the pinnacle of the game in my eyes, playing for the All Blacks, and to get back there would be awesome.

“Obviously, my first focus now is to play well for the Hurricanes and to help us win a Super Rugby Championship but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t aspiring to be an All Black.”

After 15 months of watching from the sidelines, Perenara is giving himself every opportunity to come back firing.

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“I’ve had a really good medical team around me. My physio Nic who has done most of the work with me, she’s been awesome throughout this journey and I owe a lot to her. Our trainers throughout the [Wellington] Lions, All Blacks and Hurricanes, have all committed a lot of time to me and I thank them for allowing me to get to where I am now.

“I’ve played a couple of (pre-season) games now so, hopefully, I’ll be available to play in the top side next week.

“I’ve been playing for 13-14 years now which is a blessing, and I love it, but having the game taken away from me for 15 months has maybe given me a new love for it, and a new appreciation for how privileged and how much I cherish this game.”

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Boasting more than 50 international caps more than any other halfback in the country, Perenara’s experience is invaluable to his Hurricanes teammates, and one in particular is getting the most out of it.

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Reon Paul is Perenara’s nephew, a midfielder for Bay of Plenty in the NPC and a member of the Hurricanes’ wider training group. He has moved now in with his uncle.

“To have my nephew live with me, I drive him to training every day, and we’re working together every day, and to see him in the early part of his professional career, it gives me so much motivation to continue to try to be the best I can be to be the example for my nephew.

“[To show him] this is what we have to do in order to get to where we want to get to.

“It doesn’t mean you’re going to make it. Just because you work the hardest doesn’t always mean you are going to be the best, but it gives you a good opportunity to get to where you want to get to.

“I’m not as talented as he is. He’s bigger, faster, stronger, he’s got all of that, but his application to want to work harder, get better, is something that has been the foundation of my career and I see that in him.

“I’d love to get out there and play top sides with him.”

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