- Publish Date
- Wednesday, 8 September 2021, 8:11AM
TJ Perenara appears in a positive place as he approaches potentially his first start for the All Blacks in almost one year.
This year could have evolved very differently for Perenara. With an alternate decision, he could have lined up in the NRL finals in Queensland this weekend rather than featuring for the All Blacks.
Two months ago Perenara was on the cusp of switching codes and signing with the Sydney Roosters. Having eventually made the call to stick with rugby union, he feels vindicated by events that unfolded since returning home from his six-month stint in Japan.
Perenara was deemed ineligible for the All Blacks three tests in July until he played some form of rugby in New Zealand.
Easing his way back into the New Zealand game, Perenara first savoured the chance to make several appearances for his hometown Porirua club side Norths.
"Coming back and playing club rugby with some of my best mates and my nephew was really cool, and to be able to give back to my club at this point in my career I was really grateful for that," Perenara said from Perth on Tuesday.
Despite the strong lure of testing his skills as a dummy half in the NRL, even if just for one season, Perenara was immediately satisfied with his decision when he linked with the Hurricanes in May.
"It was cemented when I came home, out of isolation, and trained with the Hurricanes. Being back in the facilities, around the team that cemented the decision and let me know I'd made the right call.
"Although things were touch and go there for a bit being able to come home and give back to my club, stay with the Hurricanes, stay round home with my family and pursue the black jersey it definitely cemented that."
Fast forward to last week and Perenara came off the bench for the second time this season with the All Blacks. His 26-minute cameo after replacing Brad Weber included a stunning try-assist that featured an intercept, two right foot steps and a left footed cross-field kick to send George Bridge over for the All Blacks' sixth try against the Wallabies.
"I didn't know it would be Bridgey but I knew someone would be out there. We pride ourselves on getting forward on line breaks so when someone does make a split a bunch of the boys will get their heads down and try and get up the field to be in support."
The All Blacks have made no secret of their intent to rotate their three halfbacks – Weber, Perenara and Finlay Christie – during the Rugby Championship in Aaron Smith's absence.
Weber impressed in his start against the Wallabies with largely crisp delivery and sharp decision-making but with the Pumas looming on Sunday, Perenara's combative, defensive qualities are expected to be preferred from the outset.
Perenara last started for the All Blacks in the loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane 10 months ago but he knows the Pumas well, with five of his 17 appearances in the No 9 jersey coming against the Argentinians, who arrive in Australia following successive losses to the Springboks in South Africa.
With Smith having a mortgage on the All Blacks halfback role since 2012, opportunities to start have been rare. No one knows this more than Perenara, with 54 of his 71 tests off the bench.
Should he get the chance this week he will, therefore, be keen to make an impression.
"We understand it's a different beast this week. Argentina are a very big team they play with a lot of speed and passion and they're very physical. We will need to adjust our tactics.
"Nug (Smith) is obviously a quality player but even when he is in the environment that's the attitude we all have - we all want to get better and improve every day. We all want to be the best player. All of us as nines have the same drive to want to be the starting halfback for us."
Perenara's time in Japan provided a new appreciation to the point he feels he owes rugby a debt of gratitude for everything it has given him.
"My perspective of the game and professional rugby has changed from the experiences I've had since I've been overseas so I'm grateful for each moment I have in the environment."
Weber made the most of his chance last week to set the bar in Smith's absence. It may now be Perenara's turn to seize an opportunity he went close to spurning.