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TJ Perenara: Why he will make it in the NRL - and why he won't

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Roar Pro
18th April, 2021
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TJ Perenara has hit the news recently with his potential move from rugby union to the Sydney Roosters in the NRL.

While a fantastic halfback in union, he has somewhat become surplus to requirements for the All Blacks with incumbent Aaron Smith getting the regular start over him and newcomer Folau Fakatava making his way through the ranks.

This has left TJ at a crossroads in his career. Currently in Japan, playing for the Red Hurricanes on sabbatical. He had intended to return to New Zealand to take up a new contract with the Hurricanes and All Blacks and continue to push Aaron Smith for starting halfback honours.

However, his plans seem to have come awry with the form of Smith and Fakatava, leading many to believe he may be on the outside looking in and publicly stating whether New Zealand Rugby should invest the money in a player who while not over the hill, is coming into the twilight of his career.

Jumping all over this turmoil, the Sydney Roosters have reportedly made an offer for the halfback to jump ship to the NRL and ply his trade in the Hooker position for them.

It’s an interesting proposition. There have been a number of players move from league to union who have played to a high level in recent years, Sonny Bill Williams being the most noteworthy of these.

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It’s harder to find a successful player jumping ship from union to league at this stage in their career and being competitive.

With that being said, here are three reasons why TJ Perenara will be a success in the NRL and three reasons why he will fail.

Reason for success number 1: His Running ability
If you haven’t seen his try against Namibia, stop reading this article right now and YouTube it. OK, welcome back. I’m sure you had to watch it a few times to appreciate how incredible it was. It is skills like that that TJ would bring to the NRL.

He would be deadly on a quick play the ball, sniping around the ruck and hitting the gaps. He is a strong ball runner with good offloading skills which would allow him to play like an extra big man on attack.

If he signs for the Roosters, Tedesco will love running off his shoulder when TJ picks and goes from dummy half, just waiting for an offload. He has experience in union playing as the first playmaker from the ruck, so would be comfortable stepping away and initiating the offense at first receiver. His running ability would already be up there for hookers in the NRL.

Reason for success number 2: Toughness and size
He is a unit for a hooker in the NRL. 6 foot tall and over 90kg. He compares favourably in size to the current crop of hookers running around, out-sizing the likes of Damien Cook, Apisai Koroisau, Harry Grant and Reed Mahoney comfortably. He puts this size to good use in union, acting like a third flanker on the field, getting his head in and over the ball in rucks.

He’s not afraid to mix it up with the big boys and he would get plenty of this in the NRL game. His size is also an advantage on the attacking end, as mentioned earlier, his offloading ability would translate well to the NRL and he has great tackle breaking ability with a strong fend.

Reason for success number 3: His passing ability
One skill required of modern All Blacks halfbacks is the ability to provide the backline with front foot ball. This needs to come from sharp, quick passing from the base of the ruck. TJ is one of the best at this and would be able to give the playmakers in the Roosters accurate passes in space.

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He is used to expending energy getting from sideline to sideline to then make crisp passes to his outside men and would have no issue getting to each tackle in league.

He has a keen eye for the extravagant pass and if he breaks the second line would have no trouble dropping off a short ball for a rampaging fullback coming through with him.

While the skills above would help him in his transition to the NRL game, these are three reasons why he will struggle to be successful if he does move over.

TJ Perenara passes

TJ Perenara (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Reason for failure number 1: Differences in the game
Yes the codes are different, clearly. Making the transition from union to league is like going from coffee to decaf, it looks the same but there are some fundamental differences. The pace of the game would be a huge factor in TJ struggling.

With the six again rule and the limited scrums and penalties in the game now, League is fast. union, with it’s lineouts, scrums and myriad penalties is a slower game.

While a halfback in union gets around the field a lot, the break in play allows for them to regain their breath. An IRB report in 2011 stated that the actual gameplay for a union game is 35 minutes after stoppages while a league game averages 62 minutes.

Good luck to TJ catching up to that without a full offseason of training.

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Reason for failure number 2: Tackling stamina
The most tackles ever recorded in an NRL game was from Elijah Taylor with 77, the most in a union game was 38 by Thierry Dusautoir. Currently Jayden Brailey is the leading tackler in the NRL and he is averaging 53 a game, 15 more than the most ever in a union game.

TJ for the Hurricanes and All Blacks is currently averaging about 4-6 tackles every game, he has to bump that up about 40 tackles to match the majority of league hookers.

That is simply unattainable for him without rigorous training. This is the biggest reason he would struggle in the transition, especially if he is being played exclusively at hooker.

Reason for failure number 3: No one else has done it
Simply put, no one has made the transition from halfback to hooker, going from union to league and been successful. While I wouldn’t completely write TJ off just yet, him becoming a success wouldn’t just be unlikely, it would be inconceivable.

To start him off, he would probably fill the 14 role for the Roosters, coming off the bench and having stints at hooker and in the halves. Even this would be a stretch for the man, to move into a crucial playmaking position in a sport that he has not played since he was a child.

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Will he or won’t he? If reports are to be believed, it is simply a matter of days before it is announced that he has signed with the Roosters.

He has the tools, the toughness and the heart to become a success in the NRL but it will be a monumental challenge and one that no-one has ever achieved before.

It will be his Everest. I for one, will be watching, supporting and rooting for him to succeed. However, I only wish it was for the Warriors!