Jordan Petaia always plays like he is trying to catch up for lost time.
Too often there’s that slightly frantic edge of trying to force a 50-50 pass to keep a play rolling or the ball going loose in a carry after he’s done the hard part of bursting through a tackler.
He’s missed so much rugby through frustrating injuries that the natural instinct would always be to force that little bit harder to make an impact.
We are at that point again as the Wallabies get ready to run onto Eden Park to face the might of Richie Mo’unga and the All Blacks on Saturday night.
Just as a foot injury (2019) and a shoulder reconstruction (2020) ripped chunks from the development stages of his career, Petaia is making another comeback after a thigh strain cost him Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and the French series.
He’s been playing Super Rugby since April, 2018 yet stitch all of his Queensland games and Wallabies Tests together and you wouldn’t fill two seasons.
It’s hard to believe but he’s still just 21 with every right to still be on his L plates in many ways.
His arrival as a freakish talent at the 2019 World Cup in Japan did create some big expectations.
His early try against Uruguay had a nice little spin move to finish it off and he showed excellent feet with his inward angle to set up Tevita Kuridrani’s try.
Better still he was close to the Wallabies’ best in that opening period against England when the quarter-final was still a contest.
Probably, the lesson of those initial Tests he played was he never tried to overcook things and do too much.
A stutter-step, a body shake or a long-striding surge into a half gap in the All Blacks’ defence can create enough without pushing a pass.
This is not talking down Petaia in any way. He’s the most exciting player to watch in the Wallabies’ backline when Marika Koroibete hasn’t stayed out too late for an extra beer.
When you set the bar so high so early it’s only natural for people to nitpick a bit.
Teammates knew how good he was going to be from first glance.
When Samu Kerevi first saw him play at the start of 2018 as a 17-year-old, he bet Petaia $10 he’d be on the Wallabies’ spring tour by the end of that year.
Kerevi was spot on.
Petaia just has a crack. His running is full on and his passing to supports is excellent when he’s not trying to push an offload with two players draped on him.
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You have to like what coach Dave Rennie has done by backing established combinations in the backline. The Queensland trio of Tate McDermott, Hunter Paisami and Petaia work well together just as Brumbies’ Noah Lolesio, Len Ikitau and Tom Banks have some established chemistry.
Playing the All Blacks at Eden Park is a massive game for any Wallaby.
It’s Lolesio’s first Test outside Australia so the step up is probably biggest for him.
It would be great to see him find his groove at Eden Park just as it would be for Petaia.
No one needs to expect freakish from Jordan Petaia. A full-on game without pushing the play would be a big tick and cause the All Blacks plenty of headaches.