Michael Cheika has named 16 forwards and 13 backs in the Waratahs’ Super Rugby squad for next year.
One more will be added, most likely a front rower. The window for the Extended Player Squad is now open and if approval from the ARU is received to recruit young players in a Wider Training Group, the complete roster could total 46.
Cheika confirmed the signing of experienced outside back Matt Carraro, an ex-Waratah but lately of Bath and Montpellier, and bustling 20 year-old Sydney University hooker, Tolu Latu. Other new players for 2014 are: Kurtley Beale (ex Melbourne Rebels), Talalelei Gray (ex Biarritz), Jono Lance (ex Queensland Reds), Nick Phipps (ex Melbourne Rebels) and Jacques Potgieter (ex Bulls).
Cheika said that in 2013 ‘the focus was laying the foundation for the team, establishing the identity of the team and reconnecting with the community’, but realistically they had ‘needed a year to get themselves an understanding of what was required’.
None of the Waratahs’ players had experienced season-winning success in professional rugby apart from new arrival Jono Lance.
The emphasis next season is on working even harder so that we earn the right to become winners.
He wouldn’t back away from the type of rugby the Waratahs played in the 2013 season:
We’re going to keep playing our running style that we played this year and we’ll try to be more effective with it . We can talk about lots of stats and linebreaks and all of that, but we’ve got to convert those into points because they’re the stats that count at the end of the day.
To do that the Waratahs would ‘work hard on repeating skills and skills and skills as a team’
Next year he also wanted his players to ‘put more sting in our tail’ and ‘to get more into the physical nature of the game because that’ll allow us to get the platform to play running footy: you just can’t go from side to side on attack, or defence.’
He wouldn’t be pinned down as to who would be playing where and said that the Tahs had a few tricks up their sleeve about how they’ll set the team up.
When asked about his new young hooker, Tolu Latu, he said that he would push Tatafu Polota-Nau for his position:
He’s deserved his spot […] He’s shown in the time he’s spent with us already this season and also on the tour and also in his club rugby that he can be a very dominant player when he puts his mind to it.
Latu arrived in Australia from Tonga with his family when he was two years old. After playing for Canterbury Juniors he went into the Sydney University Colts’ team.
He started playing in the centres, then moved to the back row, but coach Ray Hudd at Sydney Uni convinced him to play in the front row.
His rise has been meteoric. In 2012, only his second year as a front rower, Latu was selected as a loosehead prop to represent Australia in the IRB Junior World Cup in South Africa. He repeated this year in France.
He was invited to train with the Waratahs early in 2013 and recently he toured with them in Argentina. In the Shute Shield final Latu stepped the last defender and scored a try for Sydney University, but the 110 kg pocket rocket is equally capable of running over folks to do that.
But when he starts with the Waratahs the affable youngster will have to give up his night job. He won’t be using a fork-lift to move stuff from midnight to 11am: he will be shifting people on the rugby field for a living.
Waratahs Squad 2014
Mitchell Chapman (Eastern Suburbs, 30)
Dave Dennis (Sydney University, 27)
Kane Douglas (Southern Districts, 24)
Talalelei Gray (ex Biarritz, 23)*
Jed Holloway (Southern Districts, 20)
Michael Hooper (Manly, 21)
Sekope Kepu (Randwick, 27)
Tolu Latu (Sydney University, 20)*
Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University, 26)
Wycliff Palu (Manly, 31)
Tatafu Polota-Nau (Parramatta, 28)
Jacques Potgieter (ex Bulls, 27)*
Benn Robinson (Eastwood, 29)
Paddy Ryan (Sydney University, 25)
Will Skelton (Sydney University, 21)
Jeremy Tilse (Sydney University, 27).
(one to be added)
* New arrival
Adam Ashley-Cooper (Northern Suburbs, 29)
Kurtley Beale (ex Melbourne Rebels, 24)*
Peter Betham (Sydney University, 24)
Matt Carraro (ex Montpellier, 29)*
Cam Crawford (Northern Suburbs, 24)
Bernard Foley (Sydney University, 24)
Israel Folau (Sydney University, 24)
Michael Hodge (Sydney University, 24)
Rob Horne (Southern Districts, 24)
Jono Lance (ex Queensland Reds, 23)*
Brendan McKibbin (Eastern Suburbs, 28)
Nick Phipps (ex Melbourne Rebels, 24)*
Ben Volavola (Southern Districts, 22)
Extended Playing Squad
If the 30th contracted player is a fifth prop Cheika will be looking to recruit a third hooker in the EPS; and since Matt Lucas was not named above, the Tahs will need a third scrumhalf.
Any back who can kick halfway decently with his left foot will be highly regarded, as will be a high-percentage goal kicker.
Photos by Lee Grant