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All shades of Hunter Paisami

Wed, 04/05/2022, 12:00 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Hunter Paisami carrying strongly against the Chiefs at Suncorp Stadium. Photo: QRU/Brendan Hertel
Hunter Paisami carrying strongly against the Chiefs at Suncorp Stadium. Photo: QRU/Brendan Hertel

When Hunter Paisami first arrived in Brisbane, his game was as narrow as his first job swinging a sledgehammer as a demolition man.

We all still wince when this compact package of power buries an opponent with a thumping tackle for the Queensland Reds or Wallabies.

If you stop there you’ll have missed all the extra subtleties that Paisami has diligently added to his game since his debut for the Reds in 2020.

There’s the nifty little grubber kick, the improved passing, the versatility to slot into first receiver at times, a key counter-ruck and the composure as a go-to figure for running metres at big moments.

That little dab for the Reds to set up the match-winning Jordan Petaia try to sink the Brumbies on full-time in Canberra last year has been the highlight of this new kicking prowess so far.

In the four-game run to the Super Rugby Pacific finals, another element of Paisami’s make-up will be tapped.

Even though he’s still just 24, his leadership in the midfield is being called upon more with the experienced James O’Connor out with injury.

Friday night's match against the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium is a must-win for the Reds as their last home-turf game against a Kiwi side for the season.

Paisami’s direct running and go-forward is essential, even more so to cover the wallop that is missing because of Taniela Tupou’s injury.

Opponents are worried by Paisami just as they are by Tupou. You only have to rewind to the last round when Hurricanes centre Alex Nankivell took a peek at Paisami missiling towards him and dropped a pass.

The Paisami hit list is impressive this season. Nic White, Kyle Godwin and Noah Lolesio and Manasa Mataele are just four who felt they’d run into a steamroller.

Paisami idolised Ma’a Nonu as a kid. The All Blacks great is a perfect role model because of the extra dimensions he worked on to become a complete centre.

Paisami's bread-and-butter is the fearless charge into defenders of any size. Look more closely and he’s a smart mix of good running lines, a step and picking weak shoulders to run at to punch through the line.

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

“I work hard on adding little things to my game with passing and kicking and hopefully that shows.”

Paisami’s influence is reflected in the numbers. Super Rugby Pacific’s Stats Perform tag him as the Reds’ top metre-gainer in the backs (734m from 82 carries).

Only Tate McDermott and Jordan Petaia have eluded more defenders than Paisami (21). The centre has made 44 tackles but there’s one shortcoming of stats... it doesn’t indicate if he’s hit opponents with a feather or a hammer.

Paisami revealed an interesting area of growth to his game since Wallabies coach Davie Rennie gave him the silent treatment at training last year.

For a quietly-spoken youngster, born in Samoa, it was all part of building his voice in the backline.

“At trainings before we played Argentina, Dave demanded the halfback and five-eighth not talk at all,” Paisami said.

“I had to. It was all about ‘hearing my voice’ a bit more and building my comms with the No.10.”

He’s a stronger voice in the Reds backline too, an essential with no O’Connor.

If young Josh Flook and Suliasi Vunivalu, still finding his feet on the comeback trial, do step up as wingers against the Highlanders, it may just be that Paisami has played his part inside.