Noah Perelini a chip off the old block as he makes dad Apollo ‘proud’ with progress in New Zealand
When Noah Perelini left Dubai age 15 last summer to go to boarding school in New Zealand, he was less worried about homesickness than he was holding his own on the rugby pitch.
His extended family were nearby in Auckland, anyway, softening the blow of leaving his parents behind in the UAE.
Luckily, having moved with the specific intention of furthering his rugby development, he also had a well-placed friend to call on after upping sticks to the other side of the world.
His rugby mentor in New Zealand is Jerome Kaino, the 77-cap All Blacks flanker.
As Perelini puts it, it is handy to speak to someone who “knows a bit about it”.
“It is good just to talk every now and then, about specifics of the game,” said Perelini, who has spent the school Christmas holidays back in Dubai. “It is good to get in touch with someone who knows a bit about it.”
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UK-born Perelini aspires to making a career from rugby, and he has made a promising start since moving to Auckland last June. Having joined midway through the school year, he was not eligible to play in official matches for his school side, King’s College, which has made his subsequent rise all the more remarkable.
He was given his debut in a friendly match, immediately attracted the attention of talent scouts, and has subsequently passed a variety of trials, to the point he is now part of the academy of the Blues Super Rugby franchise.
“I was pretty good over here, but it’s not New Zealand, is it?” he said of moving from the UAE. “Being away from mum and dad wasn’t too much of an issue, because most of my family is there, so I wasn’t really homesick.
“I wanted to make a name for myself, because there are so many good kids in New Zealand. I was apprehensive about seeing how I was, compared to the good players over there. It has turned out pretty well.”
Having left the UAE as a No 8, he has since switched position to the openside flank.
Despite being 6ft 2in and powerfully set, the 16-year-old forward says he switched positions to make way for somebody bigger – in fact, the son of former All Blacks back Eric Rush.
Playing with and against bigger players has been one of the most notable differences of the move to New Zealand, he says, and was something he found out immediately on debut.
“It was a really good standard and in the first two minutes I was given a really big hit,” he said.
“All my mates were saying: ‘Welcome to New Zealand.’ After that, it was a case of getting my bearings. It was like playing against men, but playing against big people isn’t something that worries me.”
Considering his gene pool, there was always a fair chance Perelini might show promise in the oval ball game, but he says he initially “hated” the game.
Then his father Apollo, who is now the UAE coach and was then playing rugby league professionally in the UK, coaxed him into playing age seven.
“Dad asked me if I wanted to play rugby, so I thought I would give it a try, and I really enjoyed it,” he said.
“I enjoyed the buzz of playing rugby with my mates, that got me hooked. It wasn’t till I came here [to Dubai, to attend school at Repton age 11] that I wanted to play rugby seriously.”
Father Apollo says he is surprised by the progress his son has made, given that his enrolment halfway through the academic year meant they only expected him to start playing serious rugby when he returns this month.
“He is a really hard worker,” Perelini Sr said. “He is very dedicated to what he does. He is surrounded by good players and good rugby mentors.
“We are very proud parents to see what he has achieved in such a short period of time.
“We were happy just for him to get into the school, and in terms of rugby our plan was for him to start working now.
“When he got there, the opportunities came thick and fast. We didn’t want to hold him back.
“We have been surprised at how rapidly he had got to where he did by the end of the year.”
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Updated: January 11, 2017 04:00 AM