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'Bit of a bully moment': The Lomu-esque try that confirmed Reds star is back to make Wallabies push

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13th February, 2024
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It was a tick over four years ago when Hunter Paisami burst onto the scene.

Considered too small by the Rebels, Paisami, having made an impression for Brisbane City, immediately caught the eye for the Reds after coming off the bench against the Waratahs in Dalby.

Within 12 months he was pulling on the gold jersey for the Wallabies.

But a series of injuries last year, which contributed to a drop-off in form, led to Paisami missing Wallabies selection for the World Cup.

Bitter? Not at all, with the midfielder recognising that he was far from his best for the Reds last year.

“My biggest goal since starting when I first put on that maroon and gold jerseys was to be a part of a World Cup and to be ruled out and not be picked was disappointing,” he said.

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“I didn’t look much into it. It probably could have come down to performance as well, I probably didn’t play my best footy in those first few rounds that could have caught Eddie’s eye. Injuries as well kind of hurt. But it probably comes down to injuries and performance.”

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Hunter Paisami was a constant presence for the Wallabies under Dave Rennie but was overlooked by Eddie Jones after an injury plagued season. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

But a return to country Queensland last weekend saw Paisami take another step forward in rekindling the type of form that led to him being a constant presence under Dave Rennie and Scott Wisemantal.

Indeed, having shined during the Reds’ dour performance against the Force at Ballymore, Paisami’s physicality laid the platform during their stunning 29-0 half-time lead over the Waratahs in Roma on Saturday night.

Paisami’s powerful performance was summed up by him running over the top of Joey Walton out wide to score, as he took a leaf out of Jonah Lomu and Julian Savea’s book.

Reds and Wallabies teammate Jock Campbell described Paisami’s carry as a “bit of a bully moment” on Tuesday.

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“Thank god I don’t have to tackle him,” Campbell said of Paisami. “He’s not very tall. I find the little short guys the toughest to tackle because you can’t get under them.

“He’s so physical at the moment.”

The statement showing comes with Paisami off contract, having signed a one-year extension last year.

Paisami, 25, could have signed a longer deal but backed himself to make a stronger impression in 2024 to drive up his bargaining price.

“I love the Reds,” he said. “My preference is to stay but I’ve got to keep my options open as well.”

On the evidence of the opening two trials matches, and with Samu Kerevi not getting any younger and Joe Schmidt pushing the idea of picking players based in Australia for the Wallabies, Paisami is giving Rugby Australia some serious food for thought.

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Helping Paisami, who was previously preferred as an outside-centre by the Reds but inside-centre at Test level, is the fact he’s spent the entire pre-season training in the No.12 jersey.

“It’s the first pre-season I’ve trained at 12 full-time,” he said.

“Mostly at the Reds I’ve played 13 and Wallabies at 12, but it’s pretty good to actually train at one spot.”

The revelation is another reason why greater national alignment, especially if success at the national level is considered the most important thing, is crucial.

Paisami said he was also enjoying working under new head coach Les Kiss, who has sought to empower the squad and encouraged them to pull the trigger when in attack.

“Les has been a massive difference for my game and career,” he said. “He’s given me a lot of confidence to play my game and give us that freedom with the ball.

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“His game plan is about giving us that freedom to play eyes-up footy and have a crack whenever you get it.”

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