Petaia, who will line up against the All Blacks in Saturday's third Bledisloe Cup clash, became Australia's youngest Rugby World Cup debutant in Japan last year but said 2020 had been a "dark year".

"It’s been pretty tough," the 20-year-old told Rugby Australia's website

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"I’m still not over it, but ... it’s just about getting your head around what’s happened. That first week it happened it was a real shock to everyone.

"I went to a pretty dark place.

"But having the friends and family I do, and the support of the Reds family and everyone around me, it made it, not easy, but better to cope with."

Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn, whose own father died of a heart attack when he was a teenager, helped the young talent return to the game during the Super Rugby AU competition.

Petaia came off the bench for an eye-catching cameo against the All Blacks at Eden Park two weeks ago where the Wallabies fell 27-7 to go 1-0 down in the four-test Bledisloe series.

The result was a disappointment but Petaia was able to reconnect with his father's siblings, who were in the Auckland crowd.

"I had a lot of family in Auckland that were able to get out – about 20-30 that were there," said Petaia, who will start at centre at Sydney's Olympic stadium on Saturday.

"It was not a good game, but I was happy for them to be happy for me to be playing and shed a bit of light on such a dark year."

(Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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