Palu puts mind over matter for Waratahs
March 2, 2014
Wycliff Palu has made a strong start to the Waratahs' campaign © Getty Images
Wycliff Palu never stopped believing he could win an elusive title with the New South Wales Waratahs and dominate Super Rugby again, but his body very nearly ruled that possibility out once and for all.
The veteran No.8 was on the brink of quitting Australia for the lure of overseas dollars, because relentless injuries over several seasons had set off a ticking time bomb. In the end, self-belief and a desire to be part of history won out.
There's no secret cure for a 31-year-old injury-prone athlete, and Palu says all he can do is keep the wheels in motion after years battling knee, hamstring and shoulder problems. But the signs are good for the 10-year Waratahs warrior, who debuted in 2005 and has been witness to NSW's perennial struggles.
Palu has been a standout in the back-to-back bonus-point wins over the Western Force and Queensland Reds, with the Waratahs off to a flyer. The Wallabies star looks in rare shape and has been running the ball and hitting opponents like a man who is playing every match like it's his last.
"I was definitely close to leaving (last season). When you keep getting injured you start thinking, 'can my body hold up?'" said Palu. "But I never doubted. I think for me the hardest thing was in my mind. But I always knew I was good. I could get back to that.
"When my body lets me down, I watch games and think I can still contribute and that's why I stayed here. That's the biggest thing I feel that keeps driving me is I still feel like I can dominate at this level. Trying to win a few things before you head off, that plays a part too."
NSW coach Michael Cheika says Palu's path mirrors the journey the Waratahs as a team are trying to go on. That is, how setbacks can be overcome with consistent performances and a strong mind.
On Saturday night, the Waratahs broke a five-match hoodoo against Queensland by inflicting their biggest ever victory over the Reds (32-5) in Super Rugby history. However, Palu says the performance was "far from complete".
The Waratahs' bye-week may not be ideally timed for the team or Palu, with momentum everything.
"I've just got to keep playing. I've set myself a goal of trying to achieve that," said Palu. "I'm just trying to do all the small things like rehab and recovery, trying to tick every single box after every single game. One thing you miss when you don't play is the instinct. When you play, things come naturally and I think that's slowly coming. Hopefully I can keep building."
Two early tries from Israel Folau set the Waratahs up for a big win