Dragons rookie Pereira drives 26 hours for shot at big time
St George Illawarra winger Jordan Pereira had been waiting more than two years for a chance in the NRL but when it came he had just 24 hours to sign and drive from North Queensland to Wollongong.
Pereira, who made his NRL debut in last weekend’s 24-10 defeat of the Cowboys and will line up again on the left wing against Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Sunday, was playing for Mackay in the Intrust Super Cup when he received an approach to join the Dragons the day before last year’s June 30 deadline.
After consulting his fiancée, Sarah Orange, the much-travelled Kiwi accepted the offer and the couple packed most of their belongings into her Mazda 3 and drove for 26 hours so Pereira could start training with his new club.
"She did most of the driving, to be honest. I was sleeping," Pereira said of the 1850km journey. "We lived in a furnished apartment so we didn’t have any furniture to bring down and we literally just filled the car up with bags of clothes.
"As soon as we got to Sydney I had to drop my fiancee at the airport and she flew straight back because she had to work in Mackay."
Introduced to rugby league in Western Australia after moving from New Zealand when he finished school, Pereira hadn't seriously contemplated a sporting career until approached by the Illawarra Cutters after scoring 19 tries in his debut season for Perth's Willagee Bears in 2014.
His try-scoring prowess continued with Mackay and he is also the leading try-scorer in the Intrust Super Premiership after crossing the try line 16 times for the Dragons before last weekend’s call-up to replace the injured Nene Macdonald.
"In rugby union, I played a little bit in the forwards and the centres. When I came over to league they just said, ‘you don’t know the rules, you don’t know the game so it is probably best if you just jump on the wing’," Pereira said. "I learned the game, kind of just whenever they kicked. That turned me into a winger.
"I'd been asking if I could get a pre-season with the Cowboys every single year. I was asking, ‘please, let me show you I could work my way into a system’ … but it never eventuated into anything."
Since joining the Dragons, Pereira said ISP coach Mathew Head, Paul McGregor's NRL assistant Ben Hornby and second-rower Tariq Sims had been influences on his transition to the top grade.
"Probably the most influential person throughout the pre-season was Tariq," he said. "It was just his motivational skills. I trained really hard in the off-season coming into pre-season, knowing that the pre-season was going to be torture and I still wasn't fit enough.
"I can’t emphasise how hard the pre-season was but he just picked me up every single time. That’s what I put my development down to.
"I genuinely don’t’ believe I was ready 19 rounds ago. My first NRL pre-season was just learning the ropes from the professional coaches around me.
"They got me ready and it did take a while. I'm stoked. I don’t want to let it go."
After scoring a try on debut against the Cowboys, he will again play outside Tim Lafai against the Roosters and the centre said the 25-year-old rookie was an ideal replacement for Macdonald.
"Nene was a big loss for us, he is a powerhouse winger who helped us with those yardage carries and by finishing off those freakish tries that he does but in saying that we picked up a bonus in Jordie, who can do the same," Lafai said. "He has worked hard, he is one of the hardest workers in training and has earned his spot."