How many fresh faces will we see wearing Wallabies gold in June 2016?
Over the last five non Rugby World Cup (RWC) or Lions Series years, roughly five players have made their Wallabies debuts each June Test series. After seven rounds of Super Rugby, the collective health of Australia’s rugby stars has remained relatively intact. Yet, with the likes of Wallabies incumbent Kane Douglas’ unlikely to recover from a knee reconstruction in time and a number of Super Rugby rounds to come, there will be the opportunity for new blood.
England’s blockbuster three-Test series in Australia is still two months away, however you would be naive to think Michael Cheika isn’t already casting a keen eye over the Aussie rookies and young guns of the Australian Super Rugby franchises.
2016’s blockbuster June series will the first time that the century-old rivals will face off in a three-Test series. With England’s recent peripeteia of fortune, being crowned as Grand Slam (first time since 2003) and 6 nations champions and ex-Wallabies’ coach Eddie Jones is at the helm of the English rugby revolution, this series has all the hallmarks of going gangbusters.
Which rising stars are staking their claim for selection? Who are the prospects that stand a genuine chance of donning Wallabies’ gold?
Samu Kerevi, Queensland Reds
Kerevi first emerged as a Wallabies bolter in 2014 and as time has progressed, the calls to see him in green and gold have only grown louder. With the exception of missing two rounds in 2015 through a corked thigh, he has starting every game since making his run on debut during the 2014 season.
The barnstorming inside or outside centre was rewarded with a call-up to Michael Cheika’s Wallabies extended squad last year, after receiving glowing praise from the Wallabies coach himself.
There are numerous reasons to consider Kerevi a probable Wallabies prospect. He’s consistently the most damaging player in one of the competitions most underperforming backlines, he’s one of the top statistically attacking performers in the competition and there are no red flags that should prevent him from taking the next step into international rugby. He’s a complete centre averaging 4 tackle busts and 84.9 run metres per game, with a total of 14 linebreaks and 24 offloads in the 2015 Super Rugby season.
There is no doubt that Kerevi is a Wallaby of the future, the only question is 2016 his year? With the post-RWC exodus there will be room for him, however he will need to contend with the likes of Matt Toomua and Christian Leali’ifano to earn the starting inside centre role, that Matt Giteau made his own during the RWC, or Tevita Kurindrani for outside centre.
Dane Haylett-Petty, Western Force
Haylett-Petty is arguably the biggest winner out of Michael Foley’s new attacking style of play that the Western Force are trying to implement into their culture. After the first three rounds of the 2016 Super Rugby season, the 26 year old fullback is holding down the title for the most run metres in the competition, with 260.
He’s come a long way since his mistake ridden 2008 debut for the Force and after finding consistency and another gear throughout 2015, he will no longer be one of Australia’s “best-kept secrets”. Many pundits are claiming that he is Australia’s second best fullback, behind the freakish Israel Folau.
His blistering 2015 form has continued into this year, with his dynamic running style earning him 171m from 29 carries and a meeting with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika after the first two rounds.
“I met Cheika for the first time and had a chat. It’s pretty exciting and it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully I can put in some more good performances and you never know what can happen,” Haylett-Petty said.
Nic Stirzaker, Melbourne Rebels
Stirzaker returned from a shoulder injury to start his first game of the season in last weeks win over the hapless Waratahs.
The 25 year old halfback has received a lot of praise from the Wallabies coach, in recent times, who believes he is ready for the next step in his career.
The swift passing number 9 also has the backing from Rugby World Cup winning captain Nick Farr-Jones, while current Rebels’ coach Tony McGahan has shown his faith Stirzaker’s leadership, providing him with the captains arm-band in the 2016 season.
Allan Alaalatoa, ACT Brumbies
With the absence of Sekope Kepu (Bordeaux) and both Greg Holmes (Reds to Exeter Chiefs) Paul Alo-Emile (Rebels to Stade Francais) applying their trade overseas after the 2016 Super Rugby season, Cheika is bound to select a few new faces to bolster his front row stocks.
The fresh-faced, 22 year old prop hails from strong rugby stocks, with his brother Michael currently playing for the Crusaders and his father Vili, a 1991 World Cup hero for Samoa.
His strong performances for the Brumbies haven’t gone unnoticed, earning him an invitation to Wallabies’ Test briefing with Cheika earlier this month.
Although Alaalatoa remains a backup for his childhood friend, Scott Sio, he has recently signed a three year contract extension with the Brumbies, keeping him in Canberra until at least 2019. As a demonstration of faith in his abilities, the ARU have topped-up the final year of his contract, backing him to make the step to international rugby.
Jed Holloway, NSW Waratahs
The 24 year old from Yamba seems to have become a rugby sensation overnight. Yet those who have seen him ply his trade in recent years at the Shute Shield (Southern Districts) and NRC (Greater Sydney Rams), have been backing him for greatness.
The versatile forward has experience in both lock and blindside flanker, however he has made his most significant strides whilst wearing the number 8 jersey.
Since being named as Shute Shield rookie of the year in 2012, he has captained Southern Districts to a grand final in 2014 and semi-final in 2015. These successes led to him being announced as the captain for the Greater Sydney Rams for the corresponding years, setting the competition alight with his dynamic ball-running.
His performances for the Waratahs this season has kept his childhood hero, Wycliffe Palu, on the bench and he isn’t planning on giving up his starting role anytime soon. “To have that opportunity in that No.8 jersey is a pretty big moment for me”, stating that he is ” too competitive to let someone take that back”.
Expect big things from this guy in the future.
Locks: Adam Coleman, Western Force \ Rory Arnold, Brumbies
Both Coleman (204cm) and Arnold (208cm) have raised their oversized mitts up, to fill the likely void left by Kane Douglas’ injury. His return date doesn’t seem to be set in stone, but if he returns prior to June he will have his sights set on a gold jersey.
Will Skelton has seemed to be missing the drive and aggression he has shown in the past and he is more likely to fill an impact role from the bench, rather than in a starting position.
Lopeti Timani, Melbourne Rebels
Timani is another versatile forward who can fill the role of either lock, blindside flanker or number 8. Younger brother of Wallaby lock Sitaleki, the 25 year old has shown positive signs for a couple years now, however at 193cm he lacks height for an international lock, whilst Holloway, Palu, McCalman and Pocock would hold an edge over him as a number 8.
Sefa Naivalu, Melbourne Rebels
Naivalu made his returned to Super Rugby last week, after suffering a broken leg during last season. He established himself in the Rebel’s starting side from round seven last year, running in an impressive 711 run metres, breaking 19 tackles, and making six linebreaks in his next eight games.
The speedster is arguably Australia’s fasted rugby player, clocking a blistering 10.5 second 100 metre sprint. His speed was on the mind and mouths of many rugby pundits when he ran down Australia’s previous fastest player Lachie Turner last season, despite having to cover a 10 metre head start in Melbourne’s win over Queensland.
The flying Fijian has apparently packed on some size during his extended offseason and if he can return to form, he may just be the Wallabies’ answer to the likes of All Black Waisake Naholo.
There are still two things that need to happen prior to Naivalu receiving the chance to wear gold; he must rediscover his electric 2015 form, after breaking his leg last season and he needs to qualify to represent Australia, something he doesn’t do until September this year.
Reece Hodge, Melbourne Rebels
It may be too early to call after only a handful of games at Super Rugby level, however Hodge has all the ingredients of a future star.
On his Super Rugby debut, he demonstrated his skills as a utility, starting on the wing, before shifting to fullback and then flyhalf, to cover for the Rebels’ building injury toll. The 21 year old not only filled in, but shone at each position, running in two tries and scoring 20 out of 25 points for the Melbourne-based side in their 19-25 point win over the Western Force.
Potential Wallabies Starting Side
Cheika has made his intentions clear, he is willing to throw caution to the wind, trial new combinations and pick players on form, so expect a number of changes to the Wallabies lineup for each of the three England tests.
The combinations I’m most excited to see come to fruition would be the McPooper (McMahon, Pocock and Hooper). Pocock is one of the class forwards in the world, Hooper is almost impossible to leave out of the side and McMahon is performing a step above the two aforementioned number 7s, paraphrasing the little girl from the Old el paso ads “why don’t we have [all three]”.
The trouble with that is, how can you leave Fardy out of the team? This conundrum Is likely to raise a few questions and ruffle a few feathers, but all in all it can only be a positive for Wallabies fans.
A few of these picks may be controversial, but I would love to see how this side would fair against the 6 Nations’ champions.
- Scott Sio (ACT Brumbies)
- Steven Moore (ACT Brumbies)
- Greg Holmes (Queensland Reds)
- Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
- Adam Coleman (Western Force) – Luke Jones?
- Sean McMahon (Melbourne Rebels)
- Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs)
- David Pocock (ACT Brumbies)
- Nic Stirzaker (Melbourne Rebels)
- Bernard Foley (NSW Waratahs)
- Joe Tomane (ACT Brumbies)
- Samu Kerevi (QLD Reds)
- Tevita Kurindrani (ACT Brumbies)
- Dane Haylett-Petty (Western Force)
- Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs)
- Tatafu Polota-Nau (NSW Waratahs) – If fit after injury
James Hanson (Melbourne Rebels) as cover
- Allan Alaalatoa (ACT Brumbies)
- Toby Smith (Melbourne Rebels)
- Scott Fardy (ACT Brumbies)
- Jed Holloway (NSW Waratahs)
- Nick Phipps (NSW Waratahs)
- Matt Toomua (ACT Brumbies)
- Kurtley Beale (NSW Watatahs)
Not who you would pick? Leave a comment and let me know who would start in your squad.
Written by Nelson Dale