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By HSBC Waratahs Media Unit
Wycliff Palu today confirmed that he will stay in NSW colours next season. A sense of unfinished business at international and domestic level has kept Wycliff Palu in NSW, with the damaging No. 8 today turning his back on an overseas offer in order to re-sign for another year with the HSBC Waratahs and Australian Rugby Union.
The 29-year-old loose forward had been courted by Japanese club rugby, but has opted to stay in Australia in a bid to add to the 38 international and appearances he has already made for the Qantas Wallabies since debuting against England at Melbourne in 2006.
With 81 NSW caps to his name – including 76 Super Rugby appearances – Palu is already one of the state's top 20 most-capped players of all-time. After making his Super Rugby debut in 2005 against the Chiefs, in 2009 Palu became the first HSBC Waratahs player to win consecutive Matthew Burke Cups for Players' Player of the Year.
HSBC Waratahs Head Coach Michael Foley believes he will remain an important asset, describing his resigning as “very important” for the team. “We are so excited to have him staying on,” said Foley, “The difference he’s made at times in unquestionable.
“It’s a great endorsement for the guys that he plays with. They are a good bunch of blokes and he wants to keep playing with them.
“He’s a rare forward who has a little bit of X factor. Cliff can certainly do things in a game that others can’t. He’s able to open a game up with an involvement and he gives everyone else a lift when he’s on the field.”
Although frustrated by injury in recent years, which has denied Palu all but two Test appearances in the last two seasons, he is still just five caps astern of the newly installed NSW Rugby Union president Tim Gavin as the second most capped Australian No 8 in Tests.
The 57 Tests played by Palu’s fellow Tongan, Toutai Kefu, represents the most number of Test appearances packed down at the back of the Qantas Wallabies scrum.
“This is where I started and I really like the place. I want to stay here as long as I can,” Palu said of his decision to stay in NSW.
“Everyone here at the HSBC Waratahs, from the medical staff to the coaching staff, has been really good. They’ve helped me to where I’m at. I’ve started to make some gains with where I’m at physically, I’m not where I want to be yet but I feel this is where I’m best to stay.
“The last couple of years haven’t been easy. I haven’t played nearly as much rugby as I would have liked, but I’ve had a good run of games so far this year. Hopefully that trend continues.”
After battling back from a knee injury which totally stalled his international career in 2010, Palu underlined the extent of his commitment to the Qantas Wallabies last year.
He underwent an extensive rehabilitation programme in order to represent his country at a second Rugby World Cup, after suffering shoulder damage playing for the HSBC Waratahs earlier in Super Rugby.
Palu worked hard under the close supervision of both the HSBC Waratahs and Qantas Wallabies medical staff.
As a result, he made it back to full fitness in time to earn selection in Australia’s Rugby World Cup squad, only to strain his hamstring in his second game back during Australia’s 67-5 win over the United States of America in a pool match at Wellington.
Scans in Christchurch subsequently doused hopes that Palu would regain full fitness in time to feature again at the tournament and he had to come home.
“It [coming home early] was hard, especially when so much work had gone in just to get myself on that plane to New Zealand in the first place,” Palu says.
“But there’s no point looking back. When I considered my options, about whether to keep going here or to go overseas, I kept coming back to wanting more. More of the Wallabies, more of the Waratahs. I feel that I have more to offer, and more good times to be a part of. When I do leave I want it to be with no regrets.”
Sydney-born, but of Tongan descent, Palu has become a leader amongst the strong Tongan presence in both the Waratahs and Wallaby teams.
Test team-mates Tatafu Polota Nau, Sekope Kepu and last year’s Test rookie Sitaleki Timani all boast strong Tongan heritage. The elevation of Timani’s younger brother, Lopeti, into the Waratahs squad has only further enlarged the Tongan ‘enclave’ in the team.
Another Wallaby, Melbourne Rebels fullback Mark Gerrard, is his cousin.
“I enjoy playing with all of the guys. The Wallabies still have a relatively young team which will only get better. Watching on for most of last year, and the win in the Tri Nations, was exciting. Moments like the win over the All Blacks at Brisbane are special. They are the experiences that you play the game to be a part of.”
The chance of involvement in next year’s British & Irish Lions tour was also an incentive, Palu says.
“It’s a once in a career experience if you are lucky enough to play the Lions. I didn’t want to be sitting there watching the tour go on from a distance, regretting having given up the opportunity to be a part of it.”
Palu first appeared for the Waratahs in 2003, but wasn’t introduced to Super Rugby until 2005, the year before his Test debut for Australia.
Prior to his recent run of injuries, he had been a regular starter for the Wallabies during the stewardship of Robbie Deans, featuring in 19 of the available 28 Tests between 2008 and 2009.
Before he injured his knee playing against the Crusaders in 2010, Palu had also been a consistent on-field presence for the Waratahs, missing just five matches over three seasons between 2007 and 2010.
This included winning the Matt Burke Cup as the Waratahs Player’s Player in 2008.
The Palu influence was also underlined by the fact he finished as runner up, behind his Manly club mate George Smith, in the voting for the John Eales Medal in 2008.
Sat Mar 19, 7:40PM AEDT
Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney