Man be­hind rise of Waqa Blake

Fiji Sun - - Sport - Feed­back: leonec@fi­jisun.com.fj

Syd­ney: Who says an in­jured player can’t have an im­pact on a team? Try telling that to Pen­rith young­ster Waqa Blake who has cred­ited team­mate Dean Whare for help­ing him learn the in­tri­ca­cies of what it takes to be an out­side back. Whare played just one game for the Pan­thers this year due to calf and knee in­juries, but in the eyes of Blake a Fi­jian na­tive, he man­aged to make a huge im­pres­sion off the field. Touted “the next Greg Inglis” be­fore he’d even played an NRL game, Blake’s had some se­ri­ous raps on him, which isn’t bad for a bloke who grew up in Perth and re­ally only started play­ing league at the age of 18. But since mak­ing his first grade de­but in round five dur­ing the 2015 sea­son, the 22-year-old has been a main­stay in the cen­tres, largely due to his team­mates get­ting in­jured. It hasn’t been an easy ride and he’s had to learn quick, which is why the ad­vice of Whare has been so valu­able to him.

“Peta (Hiku) helped out, but it was mainly Deano,” said the softly spo­ken Blake. “Mainly be­cause we both played on the right edge so when he was in­jured and I was un­sure about any­thing, I’d ob­vi­ously ask the coach, but I’d just go straight to Dean and he’d an­swer straight away. I learned a lot of my game play­ing off him. Just on de­fen­sive reads when I was un­sure on what to do. Even in at­tack, when to go in, when to hold out. He helped me out heaps.” Blake has played 39 NRL games to date and while he be­lieves he started to find his feet to­wards the end of this year, he ad­mits he’s got a long way to go to im­prove his per­for­mances.

“I need to gain a bit more con­fi­dence, there’s still a lot I need to per­fect in my game,” he said.

“There’s still ar­eas I need to work on. More my skill level, ball han­dling, try­ing to min­imise er­rors and work­ing on my de­fen­sive game, work­ing with my half­back and my winger. Things started work­ing well to­wards the back end of this sea­son so I’m hop­ing to build off that.” With Whare and Hiku ex­pected to re­turn from their knee in­juries for the start of the sea­son, Blake could have found him­self play­ing re­serve grade in round one. But fol­low­ing the se­ri­ous knee in­jury to Aus­tralia rep­re­sen­ta­tive Josh Man­sour, it’s al­most a case of deja vu for Blake with a spot once again open­ing up in the back­line. When asked whether he was eye­ing off that va­cancy, Blake replied: “At the mo­ment I’m just wor­ried about get­ting a good pre-sea­son un­der my belt.

“You know, I’d love to play cen­tre, but any po­si­tion that’s given to me I’ll take.” Blake re­cently re-signed with the Pan­thers un­til the end of 2019, mak­ing him the 16th player to put pen to pa­per on an ex­ten­sion with the club this year — an in­cred­i­ble re­ten­tion drive.

“Very happy, I love this club,” Blake said of his new deal. They’ve looked af­ter me ever since I got here in the un­der 20s, so very, very happy. The play­ing group, we’re build­ing out here, last year we made it to the semis. We didn’t (go all the way), but with all the new sign­ings, se­nior guys and younger group com­ing through, hope­fully 2017 is go­ing to be a big year.” -Daily Tele­graph

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