446 days ago, plenty of Rugby fans in Australia knew nothing of the name Tate McDermott.
And that’s fair enough too; McDermott is yet to turn 20, and honed his Rugby talents outside of the major cities on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
While he was a Queensland Schoolboys representative in 2016, young Brumbies scrumhalf Ryan Lonergan was selected ahead of him for the national team, and it took a trip to the most unlikely of places to suddenly propel Tate on to the national radar last January.
“I was playing for Tribe Sevens up at Darwin Hottest Sevens, and I strung together a few good performances,” McDermott explains to RUPA.
“Not long after the tournament, ‘Friendy’ (former Australian Rugby Sevens Coach, Andy Friend) was on the phone asking if I wanted to come to the World Series event in Wellington with the Australian team! I was a bit shocked at that, but it was unreal, and I ended up playing four tournaments and loving my time in the Sevens program.”
Those four tournaments included the 2017 Sydney Sevens, and the young playmaker with the mop of blonde hair suddenly had tongues wagging in Australian Rugby. Up in Queensland, Tate had of course been on the radar for quite some time, and with his talent on show it quickly became a priority to get him into the Reds’ program before somebody else locked him down on a long-term deal.
“(Then Reds Head Coach) Nick Stiles was in contact with my parents and was really keen to get me into the Reds to focus on developing as a scrumhalf and sticking to that Super Rugby pathway.
“As a kid, I always dreamed of playing for the Reds and following that pathway, so even though Friendy had been so good to me and I loved my time in the Sevens, I made the commitment to head back to Queensland.
"It is really hard to switch between the two formats, especially when you’re still young and developing habits, and I did notice that I lost my box-kicking ability a bit and also my passing off the deck during those months in the Sevens program.”
So, it was back to Brisbane, but don’t be confused that his opportunity with the Reds constituted a chance to continue where he left off by featuring on Fox Sports every weekend; no, it was back to Club Rugby, and in fact to Colts Rugby.
“I missed the first half the Club Rugby season, playing Colts and then coming off the bench in Premier Grade; I only started two Premier Games all year.”
McDermott’s team, University of Queensland, won the Premiership in both Colts and Grade Rugby, and from there he joined Brad Thorn’s Queensland Country side in the NRC, making four further appearances off the bench as they won the title before starting pre-season with the Reds at Ballymore.
“The Queensland Country experience was like a little pre-season for the squad,” McDermott says. “The combinations formed between all of us has been huge, especially the forward pack, and that has been transferred across to the Queensland Reds.
“You see guys like (James) ‘Bobby’ Tuttle, who is really making his mark on Super Rugby off the back of a big NRC, and Chris Feauai-Sautia who is playing some really good footy. That NRC period was massive for us in terms of re-grouping and laying the base foundations for Super Rugby, and while we’ve still got a long way to go we can certainly keep building on what we have so far.”
With Tuttle, Ben Lucas and Moses Sorovi all in the squad, and all boasting Super Rugby experience, Tate wasn’t expecting to feature much for the Reds. But in a young Reds side who are impressing plenty, he has featured off the bench in five of their seven matches thus far, and he is quick to praise the coaches and teammates who have played such a key role in his development.
“Playing Super Rugby is another level! I didn’t expect to be in the 23 at the start of the season; I was just there for the ride, and loving my time getting amongst the boys and training full time. I certainly didn’t expect any of this to happen so quickly.
“‘Thorny’ (Head Coach Brad Thorn) makes you want to do everything you can to be the best player you can be; he can be pretty hard on you but at the end of the day that brings out the best and it’s what you need.
“I have known Paul Carozza for a while now and he is a great bloke and an awesome mentor. Tony McGahan is a specialist and has really helped me with my defensive work and my positioning, and he’s been somebody I can lean on.
“Jonno Lance has been really good in terms of helping me out on the field with his communication. I roomed with James Slipper during the NRC and he has helped me out a lot, while Benny Lucas has been really good with some tips around his experience playing 9; it’s a combination of all of the guys in the squad.”
Tate joins recent Wallaby debutant Blake Enever as current Super Rugby debutants hailing from the Sunshine Coast, and from the same school.
“I went to Matthew Flinders Anglican College until Year 7, had a stint down at Brisbane State High School and then settled into life at Sunshine Coast Grammar,” McDermott explains.
“I played a little bit of Club Rugby for Maroochydore Swans, but most of my development was at Grammar where I was in the First XV for three years. The Director of Rugby, Dan Robotham, was massive for me and my development.
“My family is well into the beach lifestyle on the Coast, we all loved our surfing and surf lifesaving, and then my brother and I always loved Rugby as well. I did attempt to commute down to Brisbane during pre-season, but it was a bit much, so I am living in a little apartment with my sister.
“I still try and get back to the Coast as often as possible. Any time off I attempt to get up to the Coast, we live a street away from the beach so it’s handy to get back to Mudjimba and see Mum, Dad and my little brother.”
Tate is also one of nearly 70% of Australia’s professional players who are planning for life beyond Rugby through engaging in formal study.
“Mum was very keen on making me do some Uni, so I started my Bachelor of Secondary Education at QUT this year. Mum is a teacher, and I thought being an HP teacher would be good for life after Rugby and then possibly looking at one day moving into the coaching side of things.”
Those long, flowing surfy locks reached their peak against the Bulls in Pretoria, but Tate had a different look when he took to the field against the Jaguares a couple of weeks later.
“Thorny said he had a job for me, and that I wouldn’t like it – I kind of knew what was coming, and it was haircut time! The barbers in Argentina didn’t speak a lot of English, so I have a bit of a bowl cut at the moment,” he laughs.
Fast four with Tate McDermott
Worst dress sense: Liam Wright is up there, and you can throw in Angus Blyth as well!
Cheapest teammate: Harry Hockings
Player to watch in 2018: Angus Scott-Young. We’ve seen in his first few Super Rugby games that he is a tough bloke and holds his weight out there.
Sporting hero: I always enjoyed watched Will Genia and when I was even younger watching George Gregan
Tate McDermott Profile:
Date of Birth: September 18th, 1998
Super Rugby Caps: 5 Caps (Queensland Reds)
NRC Caps: 4 caps (Queensland Country)
World Rugby Sevens Series Tournaments: 4 (Wellington, Sydney, Las Vegas, Vancouver)