Shot at redemption: Why Jed Holloway has found his way home to the Waratahs

A year after he was unceremoniously dumped by the NSW Waratahs, and only months after speaking out on the poor culture within the team set-up, versatile forward Jed Holloway has made a sensational return to the club by signing a two-year deal in what he says is a chance for redemption.

Leaving the Waratahs after not playing a minute in the inaugural Super Rugby AU season in 2020, Holloway was left disenfranchised by the club, so too the game itself, and took up an offer to play alongside Wallabies captain Michael Hooper at Toyota Verblitz in Japan.

While Holloway's time in the Japanese Top League didn't exactly go to plan -- he was separated from his pregnant wife due to COVID restrictions and was sidelined for much of the season because of a hamstring niggle -- it was just the restart his career needed.

"When I left the Waratahs I thought my time there was pretty much over and I think both the Tahs and I thought that," Holloway told ESPN. "I kind of closed the book on that chapter and then I guess nothing panned out for the team or panned out for me.

"Japan didn't really work for myself and my family but I can't speak more highly of the rugby program there that Cronny [Simon Cron] and Steve Hansen put together, it was honestly world class and the things I learned there are something that I'll hopefully take with me.

"I think just getting out of Sydney and really only training and going home and not doing too much really put the focus on rugby, and it made me realize why I'm playing it and what's important."

Watching from afar as the Waratahs dumped their coach Rob Penney after three rounds and then limped through a winless season, Holloway discussed the prospect of returning to the Tahs with Hooper, before calls with new coach Darren Coleman, several teammates, as well as interim coaches Chris Whitaker and Jason Gilmore, would convince the tackle-busting forward to return to NSW.

"I asked for a release from Toyota even though I still hadn't decided anything, I just wanted to come back and be with my family in Florida. There was the prospect of the MLR over here, but once the Tahs fronted up and I had some really good conversations with Darren Coleman, Hoops and Jake Gordon, it made me realise that the Tahs is where I wanted to be.

"Hooper asked if I'd be interested to come back to the Waratahs and I told him that I love the Waratahs and I only want them to go well.

"I wasn't quite happy with the way I played and you know my own attitude towards things in the end. I guess I was a bit disappointed at where my career was at and I want to come back and contribute the best I can and I feel like I can come back and make a difference and try build a culture there."

Labelled as a player of potential throughout his career at the Tahs, the 28-year-old is the first to admit that he didn't use his time at the Tahs wisely. Called up for several Wallabies camps, Holloway never made it to the international level, expecting his natural ability to take him further.

But after stepping away from his comfortable position at the Tahs, and learning underneath former All Blacks captain Kieran Read and Cron at Verblitz, Holloway is determined to use his second opportunity in Sydney as a chance to redeem himself.

"I think everyone thinks I've always been a player of potential and I'll be the first one to say I never really pushed myself hard enough to fulfill that and they [Whitaker and Gilmore] agreed with that, they were completely honest with that," Holloway told ESPN. "They're really willing to work with me again and try unlock that.

"Going to Japan and working with guys like Kieran Read and Cronny again, they pushed me really hard and challenged me a lot and I really enjoyed that side of it. In the past I was potentially a bit too big for my boots in that regard and thought it would just all come naturally.

"When you're playing Shute Shield and so on you can kind of get by on potential, but once you get to Super Rugby and the next level, you need to really work hard and work hard every day and be contributing off the field and have a good life balance and I feel like I I've found that.

"Just having a little girl, it's one of the most amazing experiences, and getting to spend some really good quality time with my wife, I'm just in a really happy place and feel like I can control and contribute positively and come back and let my own performances and let the team's performance speak for themselves."

Determined to step away from last year's poor performances and controversial off-field issues, the Tahs are marketing the latest slew of signings as "Reset 22" and, according to Holloway, that mantra perfectly reflects his own mindset ahead of his return to the club.

"I think that's a perfect way for my own mentality going in there," Holloway said about the club's new slogan. "I need to earn the respect of the group by working really hard and have a positive influence around the group and then, hopefully, that will lead to better things for the team.

"I know I've got to believe in myself as a player, I know what I can do, but rugby is more than one player and it takes a lot of us to actually get a result. I really want to come in there and be a positive influence; sharing my words if anyone wants to hear them and then really trying to push for a result as a team because at the end of the day that's what everybody wants to see

"Talking to DC [Coleman] he's a renowned culture builder and that's something that he's massive on and I feel I can have a massive part there, and there's a huge amount of potential. I think the key thing of it is just building that culture and making guys really want to play for the jersey in place with our state as well."