Super Rugby Rd 5 - Reds v Sharks
Super Rugby Rd 5 - Reds v Sharks

Reds centre aims to follow All Black star’s blueprint

Without the dreadlocks, it's hard to create a "mini-Ma'a" tag for Reds centre Hunter Paisami, who idolised All Black Ma'a Nonu as a kid.

What is worthy comparison is Paisami's ambition to copy Nonu by developing more dimensions to his game to become the most complete centre he can be.

When Nonu first burst on to the scene at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, his natural quick step and bullocking runs caught the eye, but you'd have cut off his right leg before allowing him to kick and you'd never expect a wide pass to find the mark.

Through hard work, he transformed into the complete centre with a lovely long ball, a deft kicking game and an eye for a perfect running angle, like his 40m diagonal dash for a try in the 2015 World Cup final against the Wallabies.

 

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Paisami's bread-and-butter is the fearless charge into defenders of any size, but at savvy running angles so he has the best chance of piercing the defence.

Those who have watched him more closely in the impressive five-game lift-off to his Super Rugby career have seen more subtleties with his willingness to counter-ruck, a neat pass, great timing in the midfield and fearless front-on tackling.

He is a natural right-footer yet his left-foot grubber kick ahead against the Jaguares is still the team's best kicking play in this substandard area for the Reds.

"My favourite player was Ma'a Nonu because he could do everything ... ball-carry, pass, kick, he was unreal," Paisami said.

 

Nonu worked hard to develop his game and became the complete centre. Picture: Getty Images
Nonu worked hard to develop his game and became the complete centre. Picture: Getty Images

That's a good beacon for any up-and-coming 21-year-old, who has to build those extra assets when his compact 92kg frame is not always going to bludgeon holes.

When he was growing up among far bigger kids in Auckland, his father inspired what he'd ink on his wrist tape: "Size doesn't matter, it's all about the heart."

The Reds, at large, will take plenty of heart to Christchurch to tackle the Crusaders on Friday, with chief playmaker James O'Connor (ankle) under an injury cloud.

Paisami is still pinching himself that his Reds chance has come this early because of the shoulder injury to Wallaby Jordan Petaia.

 

 

Before he shifted from Melbourne to Brisbane to play with the Wests club last year, he was uncertain about his future.

"My manager was looking overseas as well and I was pretty scared," Paisami said.

"I felt it might be two or three seasons before I'd get into the Reds program because no one knew me.

"I didn't expect anything this early to be honest. It's a dream come true to play Super Rugby.

"After the nerves at the start (of the season), I just love getting out there and going all-out to make the most of that 13 jersey."

Even just starting in three of his five games, Paisami is in Super Rugby's top 10s for running metres (320), tackle busts (14) and, most significantly, post-contact metres (146m), which is a measure of always driving forward.



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