It’s been a whirlwind year for Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese.
The Victorian front rower started 2019 participating in gruelling rehab training sessions on Gosch’s Paddock in January as he attempted to comeback from a ruptured ACL sustained the year before.
Fast forward 10 months later and Uelese has just played in all five of the Wallabies’ 2019 World Cup matches, cementing himself as one of the premier rakes in Australia.
It’s something Uelese didn’t envisage achieving given the short time frame the 22-year-old has gone from making a successful comeback from injury to being selected for rugby’s most prestigious tournament.
As he recollected on what’s transpired over the past two months, Uelese remembers the uncertainty he felt of whether three games for the Rebels and two international matches for Australia would be enough to convince Wallaby selectors that he deserved a place in the 31-man squad for Japan.
“I was pretty nervous,” Uelese said.
“It probably didn’t help that I didn’t play too many games this year, but I guess at those training camps I just wasn’t sure (I’d be selected) because obviously Tolu (Latu) came back and he’s a world class player and other hookers have played this season and shown their hand.
“But I did everything I could to try and put my best foot forward and when I did get selected it was pretty surreal.”
The selection had fulfilled a lifelong dream for Uelese, a proud junior of the Eltham Rugby Union Club.
The Northern Suburb’s product was one of two Victorians included in the Rugby World Cup squad, with Northern Panthers junior Christian Lealiifano being the other Melburnian selected.
While an overwhelming feeling of excitement enveloped the young forward after finding out he’d earned a spot in Australia’s World Cup squad, Uelese says he still couldn’t quite believe he had been genuinely chosen.
“It was great to live out my childhood dream and go to my first World Cup, the first of many I hope,” he said.
“When I did get selected, I actually didn’t believe it when I got called.
“I was playing Fortnite with the boys and I got a call from this random number and even after I got the call, I wasn’t sure if it was true or not and I just waited for the email to come through the next day, so yeah it was pretty surreal.”
Jordan Uelese singing the Australian National Anthem before the Wallabies' clash with Georgia at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Uelese entered the 2019 Rugby World Cup with only four Wallabies caps to his name, having made his debut in September 2017 against South Africa in Perth.
By the end of the World Cup, Uelese had more than doubled his international game tally, making the reserve hooker role his own.
In his five matches for the Wallabies, Uelese says he was exposed to a level of game-intensity he’d never experienced before, admitting no opposition, no matter what ranking they were, was an easy game.
“To represent your country and to play all five games at the World Cup is pretty special as every opportunity you get to wear the gold jersey is pretty special, especially at a World Cup as well,” Uelese said.
“It was really tough, every game, something you do learn with test footy is every mistake counts.
“The games were really physical, no matter who you played, tier one or tier two, it was pretty tough, but it’s what we enjoyed.”
While the honour of representing his country made Uelese feel overwhelmingly positive about his experience in Japan, it was the honour and pride which fuelled the devastation when Australia crashed out of the World Cup to England in the Quarter Finals.
Uelese says he didn't initially know how to react when he arrived back home, with family being a key factor in helping him overcome the early exit.
"When we first arrived back (in Australia), I was pretty numb, I didn’t know how to feel," he said.
"We let our country down in a sense, but it’s good to be back in Melbourne surrounded by family I haven’t seen in two to three months."