At the start of the season Will McDonnell’s goal was to cement a first grade spot at Sydney University. 

Never did the Narrabri native imagine he would line up for the NSW Waratahs.

But the 21-year did just that earlier this month, making his debut in their exhibition match against Japanese Top League side NEC Green Rockets in Tokyo.

The centre was the only non-contracted player included in the squad for the week-long tour, which saw the Waratahs conduct coaching clinics at local schools and train alongside Japanese heavyweights Suntory Sungoliath.

“It was really good. It was a bit unexpected getting called up to it,” McDonnell said.

“I don’t think many uncontracted players get the opportunity to tour with them.” 

His call-up follows a number of eye-catching performances for the Students.

“I had to miss out on an exam, but playing for the Waratahs takes priority,” he added jokingly.

It’s a stark contrast to 12 months ago with McDonnell a frustrated spectator courtesy of a stress fracture in his foot.

“When I first did the injury the doctor said it would be two or three weeks,” he said.

“But it kept drawing out and ended up being most of the season.”

He managed to get back on the field in time for the finals and starred for the Students in their second grade triumph winning the player of the grand final award.

“I had a big off-season and was lucky enough to be picked to play first grade,” McDonnell said.

A half-back in his younger days, the former Waratahs U20s squad member played a bit of five-eighth before moving out to inside centre “which is where I’ve stayed”.

McDonnell and fellow Waratahs debutants backrower Lachlan Swinton, prop Cody Walker were presented with their jerseys by Waratahs legend Wycliff Palu.

“It was good to have him come and present the jerseys,” McDonnell said.

Admitting to a few nerves sitting on the sidelines, he was introduced into the game midway through the second half.

“I got on with 15-20 minutes to go, which was good,” he said.

“They were losing so I didn’t think they would put us on.”

The Waratahs ended up going down 29-26.

McDonnell did suffer a flare up of his foot injury and will miss Uni’s clash with third-placed Manly on Saturday.

They currently lead the Shute Shield standings by four points clear with six rounds remaining.

We’ve got a pretty young side. The coaches have told us to back ourselves,” McDonnell said.

“(And) We’ve got a good forward pack which gives us pretty good front foot ball.”

If something was to come from the Japan trip it would be a dream come true, but McDonnell’s immediate focus us to “get back on the paddock and play good footy”.

“Maybe an opportunity might open up at the end of the year for a potential contract,” he said.

“I know that it is a long shot. But hopefully it is a foot in the door.”