Israel Folau is set to make his Super Rugby debut against his home state. Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au/Getty Images
First the first time in what seems like an eternity, there is genuine excitement building around New South Wales this season. A team that built a reputation in previous seasons of being happy to win ugly started to lose ugly last season. Four wins in 16 starts is hardly the sort of fare that keeps the Waratahs’ slightly fickle fan base from rocking up to the Sydney Football Stadium on a regular basis, but there is most definitely cause for optimism after a successful off-season.
The signing of former league star Israel Folau gained plenty of attention, but his performances at the back in trial matches have shown he’ll adapt to union far quicker than he was ever going to pick up our Indigenous game with the GWS Giants. Folau will bring the fans in, but the man most likely to help boost the Waratahs’ win total is flanker Michael Hooper, who comes across from the Brumbies after a standout season at both Super Rugby and international level.
It’s a tough first-up assignment as Michael Chieka takes charge of New South Wales for the first time, taking on traditional foe Queensland at Suncorp Stadium. The Reds have lost just once at home in the regular season the past two seasons, and they’ve won the last three against the Waratahs, including a 32-16 home victory in 2012. In all three of those victories, the Reds have gone in to the break with a halftime lead . Queensland will be smarting after going down 24-6 in the opening week of Super Rugby against the Brumbies last weekend, and Ewen McKenzie’s team can ill-afford to drop two straight to its closest rivals in the Australian conference.
Reds skipper James Horwill will be missing for the second consecutive week due to an ankle injury suffered at training. Quade Cooper should be better for the run after playing just one trial match in the lead-up to his boxing debut, but the fly-half has had to resort to the Internet to find vision of the man he will likely play opposite on Saturday night, Waratahs fly-half Ben Volavola. Young gun Chris F'Sautia comes in to the centres in place of Aidan Toua, while Ed O'Donoghue has been preferred to Adam Wallace-Harrison. With Berrick Barnes already ruled out, the 22-year-old will make his Super Rugby debut if back-up No. 10 Bernard Foley fails to overcome and ankle injury.
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