Aussie-born starlet ready to make the most of his big chance
Promising centre eager to build on bright pre-season and step into Henshaw's shoes
Last week it was announced that Young Munster starlet Ed O'Keefe would be the latest hopeful to join the ranks at the Connacht academy.
This year another 21 contenders will look to claim a spot in Pat Lam's squad by excelling in the academy.
Connacht's head coach has placed faith in the expertise of academy manager Nigel Carolan since he arrived at the Sportsground in 2013.
The results speak for themselves - academy products Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion have graduated to Ireland honours lately, while the Emerging Ireland touring party to Tbilisi last summer included nine Connacht players.
The door remains open this term again and Rory Parata seems destined for big things, with the outside-centre slot a problem position in the absence of star man Henshaw.
Parata is in Year 3 of the academy and has yet to make a competitive start for the senior side.
However, in pre-season the 21-year-old made appearances against Grenoble, Castres and Munster and he is relishing the chance to take the next step.
"I played my first game for Connacht in a pre-season match against Wasps but I only came on towards the end as a replacement," he says.
"That was three years ago and it was nice to get my first start against Castres and have a run around out in France, even just to see the level of opposition that there is out there.
"I am used to playing club rugby and British & Irish Cup games and it was good to get out there against some top opposition like Castres.
"It was my birthday and I didn't really get a chance to go out and celebrate after but that was a nice little birthday present to get anyway."
Parata was born in Sydney and moved to Ireland when he was nine; he has lived in Passage-West, Co Cork ever since.
Rugby has always been a massive part of his life but the Galwegians flier started out in the rugby league code. When his father Robert and mother Annette decided to move to Cork, Parata had to give up the 13-man game.
"It was a real rugby league country where I grew up and I started playing league when I was about five," he explains.
"I moved to Ireland a few years later. My parents met in Sydney, but my mom is from Cork - she was over for a year's holiday that ended up 18 years.
"When I got to Ireland I went to Dolphin in Cork city to play union because there was no rugby league around.
"I remember showing up for training. . . in Australia we had contact from the age of five and I was nine and it was non-contact so I didn't like that.
"I went and played soccer for two years but got sick of that and wanted to get back into the rugby, went back to rugby around 12 and haven't stopped since really."
Although he grew up in Australia, Parata is a New Zealand fan through and through.
His father played for the Norths Rugby Club, home to the late All Black legend Jerry Collins.
"My dad is from Wellington in New Zealand so that is real rugby country there as well," says Parata.
"He has always played, and up to a high enough standard as well. He played firsts club rugby back in New Zealand.
"He played until he was old enough and I remember from the first day I could talk I was watching the All Blacks playing.
"Even though I am originally from Australia it has been bred into me that I support the All Blacks, so that is where I get my rugby influence from."
Rugby is in the genes, and in recent years Parata has looked to maximise his considerable talent.
He went to school in the famed rugby nursery of Rockwell College and played briefly for the Munster U-18s before he was spotted by the Connacht scouts.
Once he moved his interests to Galway, Parata joined up with Galwegians and they promptly gained successive promotions from Division 2A to 1B and now onto the top tier.
Meanwhile, Parata also played for the Ireland U-19s against France and has moved into his final year of three in the Connacht academy. He knows that he needs to grasp this opportunity with both hands and make the next step.
"I am happy with how my game is improving so hopefully I can build on that and the same as the rest of the squad, just get better and better every game," he says.
"Every day you go in to meet Nigel you can look at the wall, there is a wall of people who have come through the academy and it is great to have them coming through.
"This year even, we have Eoghan Masterson playing with the Emerging Ireland and Ultan Dillane doing really well. They are some hard guys to follow but that is the aim anyway.
"There have been a few injuries and Robbie is away at the World Cup, so there is a chance for me now.
"I spoke to Nigel a bit at the end of last year. We were saying that we knew Robbie would be away with the Ireland squad and that it would be a big year for me.
"So I didn't go away anywhere in the off-season. I put my head down and trained away so I could start pre-season and have a bit of head start on everyone else.
"I think I've done that now and we will just have to see where it takes me."