It was the biggest spray of his life, but now it’s about to land Waqa Blake a starting gig for Penrith’s NRL season-opener against Canberra on Saturday.
A calf injury to international star Dean Whare has opened the door for Blake to deputise this weekend, continuing a blossoming career that looked shaky at the start of coach Anthony Griffin’s tenure.
Blake had just staggered in last from a 2.5km pre-season run when the new coach shuffled the entire team together to call out the City representative.
“I was right at the back, my back seized up and I was almost walking,” Blake told AAP.
“Then he brought us all in and he said in front of everyone, `You want to play first grade Waqa but you can’t even run a f…… lap around the field.’
“I’ve had sprays before but that one was in front of the whole team and directed straight at me.
“It wasn’t a good look.”
The 21-year-old said it was a humiliation that rattled him for the rest of the summer, but also led to him stripping off 10 kilograms.
“Even coming back to training the next day, for the rest of the eight weeks before the Chrissy break, I was always making sure I was thinking of ways to make myself better,” he said.
“Coming back like that was not a good look for me. If I wanted to play round one, there’s no way he’d be picking me.”
Whare injured his calf in the club’s first trial against Canterbury and isn’t expected to spend too long out of a backline that also features fellow Kiwi stars Peta Hiku and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Kangaroos winger Josh Mansour and captain Matt Moylan round out a back five that is likely to keep Blake fighting for his spot, but the Fijian native said he was prepared to bide his time.
“Late last season I thought to myself that maybe I wasn’t ready for City because I had a disrupted pre-season last year and I was only filling in for injuries,” he said.
“This year’s another learning curve for me. We’ve got an all-international backline and I’m just doing all I can to learn from them.”