Isaac Kailea: The reluctant front-rower with the stars aligning for a magical Melbourne return

Mon, Jul 8, 2024, 4:20 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt and captain Liam Wright speak after the win over Wales

Wallabies prop Isaac Kailea is now grateful for the push to the front row as he prepares for a special Saturday Test against Wales.

The 22-year-old was one of seven debutants in the nine-point win over Wales, coming off the bench and making a real impact with his defensive pressure.

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“It was pretty special. I was a bit worried early on when ‘Slips’ went down in the first 20 minutes and they called me over, I was like ‘I don’t think I’ve got 60 in me' but he's tough so he pushed through,” he said and smiled to reporters.

“Getting on it felt like just another game, it was a lot quicker than what I’m used to at Super Rugby level but after the game, I was soaking it all in.

“I didn’t really want to leave the field, I was quite happy signing all the autographs and taking the photos. It was quite surreal.”

Kailea has had a meteoric rise even since a push from former Wallaby Nic Henderson to move from the back to the front in 2018.

It was met with resistance but Kailea is loving life working under gurus such as Mike Cron and Laurie Fisher.

“Initially I wasn’t too happy. The first couple of years were quite a bit tough being thrown into the deep end and definitely some seasons where I wish I wasn’t there but I’m glad it all worked out,” he remarked.

“I’ve still got a long way to go but I’m glad I stuck it out.

“(Mike’s) attention to detail and nailing down the fundamentals, he’s really good at breaking down the scrum and making sure each step you’re consistent.

“He’s been real good for me and I’ve been trying to pick his brain pretty much the whole time I’ve been in camp.”

Kailea’s mother is Chilean and his dad is Tongan although he joked “You probably wouldn’t recognise my mom even if I was standing right next to her, you’d think I was adopted or something.“

As a proud Victorian, the opportunity to play in front of friends and family was all the motivation Kailea needed to solidify his spot in the 23.

However, there’s another driving factor on his mind, with the prop set to celebrate his birthday on the day of the second Test against Wales.

When the schedule came out, it was a date quickly circled in the calendar by his family, even if the young prop had yet to start a Super Rugby game.

With the dream now a reality, Kailea reflected on what the moment would mean as the stars align perfectly for a special night.

“It’d be special regardless if I’m playing or not,” Kailea said.

“It’s a dream come true to be around the boys in camp so whether I’m playing or not, I’ll be supporting either way.

“My dad is my biggest supporter and when I started to string some good games together at Super and the Wallabies schedule came out at the same time, my dad had this game circled saying ‘you’re going to make your debut on your birthday here in Melbourne.’ “I’m lucky it happened a week earlier but definitely very exciting to have a game here at home and potentially play in front of my family.”

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