The forgotten young gun who wants to change the Western Force forever – and can
Throughout the Western Force’s history, the Perth-based club has had to lure players across Australia and, indeed, overseas to help fill the squad. Reesjan Pasitoa wants to change that.
“My mum’s German and my dad’s Niuean, so I’ve got family in Germany and then I’ve got a lot of family in NZ, and there’s a whole lot of Kiwis here in Perth. I grew up going for the All Blacks and there’s a lot of us young kids from Perth that go for the All Blacks. That’s another reason why I came back [to Perth] as I would love to change that thought, and I would love for kids to want to play for the Force and Super W Force team and want to play for Australia, so that’d be pretty cool,” Pasitoa told The Roar.
“Maybe there’s a kid who is in a similar boat that instead of needing to go east just wants to stay in Perth and play footy in Perth.”
The 22-year-old has slipped off the radar over the past 18 months, but it wasn’t long ago he was being billed as one of Australian rugby’s big next things.
“Reesjan Pasitoa has to be in the Wallabies squad in 2022. Early days I know, but he is a future star. At 20 years old….the time is right,” Tweeted two-time World Cup-winner Tim Horan in early 2022, having watched him progress from Nudgee College to guiding Australia’s Schoolboys team to a drought-breaking win over New Zealand before seamlessly transitioning to the Super Rugby ranks.
But a season-ending ACL injury meant Pasitoa missed the next 11 months, including the entire 2023 Super Rugby season.
Rather than kick stones, the youngster viewed the devastating setback as an opportunity to grow and develop.
“Obviously missing out on the footy stuff was tough, but it was almost like a blessing in disguise because I’ve never really got a break after school,” Pasitoa said.
“It’s sort of just been footy, footy, footy and, I guess, it was a year that I could learn about myself and learn about my body.
“I hope I don’t have to go through it again, but I tried to take a real positive approach to the whole thing. Coming back into training, I’ve definitely noticed some changes in my performance and my preparation, and I don’t think that would have happened if I didn’t have that time off.”
The crazy thing about Pasitoa is that he is still very much in his infancy as a player despite making his debut four years ago for the Brumbies.
Back then, having headed south from Brisbane to Canberra to start his professional career, Pasitoa was locked in a battle to wear the No.10 jersey alongside Noah Lolesio and Bayley Kuenzle.
Lolesio, of course, was preferred and went on to play for the Wallabies in his first year for the Brumbies too, but it said plenty of Pasitoa’s potential that he was firmly in the mix in Dan McKellar’s program, including at inside-centre, as a teenager.
With Lolesio establishing himself as McKellar’s first-choice playmaker, Pasitoa decided it was the right time to return home.
He did so to firstly try to inspire the next generation of locals to play for the Force and, secondly, to try and grab hold of the No.10 jersey.
“I’ve always wanted to be a 10,” Pasitoa said.
“I think my style of footy is a bit different to most tens and that’s what sets me apart, so I definitely came over with that intention.
“If you look at my game and strengths and weaknesses, most people would say I’m a 12. But I think that’s what sets me apart from all the other 10s is that I am a heavier body, I’m nearly 100 kilos, I can run a heavy ball rather than just a traditional ten who might just catch and pass.
“I’m not afraid to just carry the ball hard and that probably suits maybe the 12 role, but I think that’s what normally sets me apart as a ten.”
The downside of missing Simon Cron’s first year in charge of the Force meant that Pasitoa gave up ground on others.
As Pasitoa worked away quietly with his recovery, Max Burey made a strong first impression with the Force with his desire to take the game on and play heads-up rugby.
Then Cron pounced on Ben Donaldson’s services, with the versatile Waratahs back, who caught Eddie Jones’ eye so much so that he started him in the No.10 jersey against Wales during the World Cup, up for a sea change and keen to test himself in a new environment after struggling for consistency in Sydney.
It means that Pasitoa will once again have a fight on his hands if he’s to end up at fly-half, with Cron looking at the ball-playing inside back as an inside-centre contender. Not that Pasitoa is concerned.
“It’s definitely good for the squad in terms of having depth,” he said.
“You talk about competition for position, but that also lifts the intensity of training. We’re just going to go head-to-head and whoever performs will probably get a look-in.”
Pasitoa is also aware that several modern-day star playmakers spent time at inside-centre.
His idol Dan Carter got his opening with the All Blacks in the No.12 role, while Matt Giteau also swapped between fly-half and inside-centre for much of his career.
More recently, Pasitoa spent time learning from the versatile Christian Lealiifano at the Brumbies too.
“Daniel Carter was definitely my idol,” he said.
“When I was younger I was going for the All Blacks and he was the All Blacks 10, so he was definitely an idol of mine. Luke McAlister was another one.
“I really liked Christian Lealiifano and I was really lucky that I got to spend a little bit of time with him down at the Brums and he taught me plenty and spent a lot of time with me, which I’m really grateful for.”
Regardless of where Pasitoa ends up, his return is a timely boost for Australian rugby.
While the Wallabies once had Giteau, Lealiifano and Matt To’omua who could seamlessly transition from fly-half to inside-centre, that’s no longer the case. Pasitoa can change that.
It’s not just the pathways that Pasitoa wants to change either, with the talented ball-player intent on changing the perception of the Wallabies too if he one day gets the honour of wearing the gold jersey.
“If I’m lucky enough to pay for the Wallabies, I would like to be part of a team that changes the way that it has been as of late in terms of winning,” he said.
“I’m a competitive person and for years when I was going for the All Blacks that was when they were unbeatable, they had one of the highest, if not the highest win rate of a sporting team. I want to change that, flip that, and make the Wallabies one of the highest winning teams in the world.”