It’s no surprise that Eddie Jones returned to Arnhem Land late last week.
After all, 20 years ago, he took his Wallabies side up to where it all began and it brought them together.
Despite losing the Bledisloe Cup and having 50 put on them by the All Blacks in Sydney along the way, Jones’ decision to get off the grid and explore Australia’s origins and get back to Mother Earth saw the squad come together.
Lo and behold, the Wallabies came within a Jonny Wilkinson boot of claiming back-to-back World Cups after surprising the All Blacks in the semi-final just a couple of short months later.
“That’s the one Lote [Tuqiri] almost got eaten by a crocodile,” former World Cup winner Matt Cockbain told The Roar earlier this year.
“That was a really good thing that he did for the Wallabies moving into that World Cup. It probably made us realise how much we were playing for everyone in that home World Cup.”
That is indeed what Jones wanted by taking the 2023 class up to the Northern Territory last week.
Instead of any grandiose send-offs in front of packed hotel function rooms, Jones opted instead to take his squad to a place they had never gone.
“We came to Darwin and Arnhem Land, so it’s a double trip,” he said at the unveiling of his 33-man World Cup squad last Thursday.
“Arnhem Land, particularly, because that’s where the civilisation of Australia started, and I want the players to feel that this is where it all started and feel the responsibility of representing Australia at a World Cup.”
In the hot and humid conditions of Darwin, the Wallabies slogged it out.
Then they got tight on Sunday evening.
“Naturally, the deeper you go into a camp or a competition, you do get tighter. But especially with an experience like that, we were off the grid so no reception which obviously forces people to talk to each other these days,” first-time World Cup member Nick Frost told reporters.
“We were all doing activities together and just experiencing something that we knew at the time what we were doing, but then coming back from when we left with those great memories and the cultural appreciation for all that was pretty outstanding.”
As it so happens, those crocs still rule the waters in the north.
“No quick swims, unfortunately,” Frost quipped.
“The water was beautiful. We did a little bit of spearfishing, so into some knee-deep water but other than that, it’s keep your eyes peeled a bit.”
After all, stories of Tuqiri having a close shave with a hungry and restless crocodile while on the edge of a little boat are infamous in these regions.
“My dad actually mentioned that to me. He said, Lote nearly missed the World Cup because of that,” Frost said.
“We saw Nike, the resident croc. It turned up pretty much right on time when we got there and that afternoon. They fed it a few fish and it came right up onto the beach.
“It was a great experience. A few boys went out, there was a few fish caught. Unfortunately for us spearfishing, we didn’t really get anything. We threw a lot of spears and nothing came back.”
Having witnessed first-hand how some First Nations people live their lives, the Wallabies slept in tents while others struggled through the group of snorers.
“It was a pretty surreal experience obviously in the wild,” Frost said.
“To be there and see all the young kids. There was a young kid running around with the Python as a pet and running with a snake and they don’t have a care in the world because that’s how they grew up and that’s their culture and they love it, so it was pretty eye-opening.
“Cars were getting bogged, people were getting left behind, little boats, tinnies and trying to sleep eight of us in a tent in 30 degrees is pretty interesting. So, things like that, those shared experiences were good and brought everyone together.”
For Frost, the four-day mini-tour was exactly what was needed after the emotional highs and lows of Jones’ controversial squad unveiling.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he said.
“It was always obviously planned. It just doubled-down on that to have such an inexperienced group, with a lot of youth, so to connect has been great.
“No one’s really talked about the inexperience at all. We’re all really keen and fresh to get out there.”