Man behind rise of Waqa Blake
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