He’s enjoyed success at Super Rugby and Junior Wallaby level, but now Eastwood flyer Mark Nawaqanitawase is determined to make his mark on the Shute Shield.
A product of St Patrick’s College in Strathfield, the 20-year-old winger burst onto the scene in 2020 after a flurry of strong performances in the Australian U20’s, NSW Country Eagles and for Club side Eastwood.
His untapped and elite physical potential was rewarded with a debut performance in arguably the toughest road trip in Super Rugby, facing the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Despite the enormity of this challenge, Nawaqanitawase caught the attention of many with an elite two-try performance. The first an acrobatic finish in the corner and the second a 55-meter intercept try to spark a late Waratah surge.
12-months on, Nawaqanitawase’s focus now turns to Club rugby, with the Eastwood winger hoping to string some consistent performances together ahead of selection for the Trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition starting in May.
“I’m really excited about any opportunity I get to pull on the Eastwood jersey,” he said.
“It’s a great Club and every time I return, I’m reminded of that.
“It’s nice to know that I can return to Club rugby to challenge and compete at the same level I do for the Waratahs. It’ll really help my game improve.”
Eastwood prepare for a trip to Woollahra Oval for their Round Four clash against Eastern Suburbs, a match which many are dubbing a prelude to Shute Shield Finals action come September.
Nawaqanitawase was a key feature of Eastwood’s Grand Final team last season, a side which fell short to Gordon 28-8 at Leichhardt Oval.
But the young winger is relishing an opportunity to go one better this season, identifying the next few weekends as his chance to make a mark on 2021.
“My time at the Waratahs has really built my confidence and that is a great asset to my performance,” he said.
“When I’m relaxed and confident, I know I’m playing at my best.
“I’m at the stage now where I feel I can go to Shute Shield level and perform at a high standard straight away.”
Eastwood have been fortunate enough to carry much of last year’s Finals team into this season.
This weekend alone, the Woodies have named nine players from their Grand Final side against Gordon to face Easts, including Ed Craig, Matt Gonzalez, Enoka Muliufi and Nawaqanitawase’s Waratahs teammate, Tane Edmed.
It’s an attribute which Nawaqanitawase believes will help his side go one step further in 2021.
“We are lucky to have a chemistry and relationship already built,” he said.
“We really love playing for each other and that showed last season, getting to the Grand Final when many thought we couldn’t.
“But this year we’re even more motivated and our sole focus is to go one better.”
It’s easy to understand where much of Nawaqanitawase’s confidence is drawn from, with Head Coach Ben Batger echoing much of his young player’s sentiment.
“We talk regularly at the Club about always finding ways to improve,” said Batger.
“This constant learning process is something that has been a part of our Club since I’ve been a coach.
“Tough losses always leave a bitter taste in your mouth, but we know we’ll get another opportunity.
“Come Grand Final day this year, we’re pretty eager to spit that bitter taste out.”
After featuring in Eastwood’s early season match against the Two Blues, Nawaqanitawase knows that the much-anticipated clash against Easts will be a telling sign of where he and his team are in their respective progression.
“Ultimately, this is a huge test for our side,” he said.
“We beat them on both occasions last year and it’s important we keep that momentum going.
“But a personal ambition of mine is to cement my spot in the Tahs team, so it’s important I take every single opportunity I get when I play for Eastwood.
“If I can achieve that, then I start to think bigger.”
Easts host Eastwood today at Woollahra Oval - Catch all the action Ad-Free, Live and On-Demand on Stan Sport.