Holloway itching for Super Rugby return and Waratahs success

“I just can’t wait to put on a jersey and start hitting people again, it’s been a very long summer.”

With that, you start to get an understanding of just how frustrating the past nine months have been for Waratahs star Jed Holloway.

Midway through a breakout Super Rugby season, the 24-year old No.8 injured his shoulder and was ruled out for the remainder of the season, ending his hopes of a Super Rugby finals campaign and a potential Wallabies debut.

After surgery and a four-month rehabilitation program, Holloway survived a gruelling pre-season with the Waratahs, only to suffer a further setback just weeks out from the start of the 2017 Super Rugby season.

“It’s just a low-grade hamstring strain, which has been hugely frustrating because it’s been lingering for a while now,” he told Rugby News.

“I was scheduled to return for round two but I had another scan to check on it and it showed that it was only about 85% healed, so on the back of what happened to Brad Wilkin, with his ACL, they decided not to rush me back.”

Holloway is now targeting a round four return against the Brumbies in Sydney but admitted he isn’t expecting to walk straight back into the Waratahs starting XV.

“I’ve been running a lot and getting plenty of volume in my legs so that I’m ready to go if I get called upon,” he said.

“The shoulder is fine, it’s feeling really good. It felt great hitting people again in training and I was really enjoying getting back into it. That’s why this latest injury is so frustrating.

“Fortunately, we’ve got great depth at the Tahs and Wellsy (Michael Wells) has been playing and training the house down, so I’m going to need to work hard to try and win that starting spot back. That competition is great for both me and Wellsy and great for the team as well.”

A product of NSW’s Far North Coast and the Yamba Buccaneers, Holloway played Australian Schoolboys before joining Sydney club Southern Districts in 2011.

After a stint with the Australian U20s, he made his Super Rugby debut with the Waratahs as a 20-year old in 2013, but fell out of favour at Moore Park under Michael Cheika and played just three matches in the next three seasons.

Last year, a bigger and stronger Holloway returned to Super Rugby and didn’t take long to show what he could do.

In round four, he scored three tries from the bench, breaking a 134-year old Waratahs record and quickly made the sky blue No.8 jersey his own.

“It was really exciting to get that first real crack at the starting jersey and you gain a lot of confidence from that. But once you perform, it’s then about performing consistently and that is difficult to do at Super Rugby level.  A lot of guys fly onto the scene but struggle to find that consistency and that’s something I want to avoid,” he said.

“Obviously my season last year was cut short, but I was happy with what I showed when I was on the field and I think that’s made me hungrier again for this season.”

After nine impressive performances, Holloway was in line for a spot in the Wallabies squad for both the June Test series and the end-of-season Spring Tour.

But injury got in the way and Holloway watched from a physio’s bed as some of his younger teammates took the trip of a lifetime.

“It was frustrating. I was super happy to see guys like Jack Dempsey and Andrew Kellaway go on tour, but I didn’t speak to Cheik at all about selection so I wasn’t expecting it. I do wonder what would have happened if I didn’t get injured but there is nothing I can do about that now.

“I’ve done everything I can to get back on the field and hopefully I can prove myself this year and potentially get selected down the track.”

For the moment though, a gold jersey is the furthest thing from Holloway’s mind.

Now one of the more experienced players in a young Waratahs squad, the No.8 took on more responsibility at line-out time over summer and worked hard to become one of the most consistent trainers in the squad.

“I’m not the young buck anymore, I’m surrounded by a lot of younger guys now so I need to lead the way with my attitude.

“I don’t think we’ve come close to fulfilling our potential so far this year and that’s frustrating for our fans but it will come with time. Everyone saw what Irae Simone can do in the NRC last year, Jake Gordon will be superb, guys like Ned Hanigan have been in the system for a few years now so there a lot of good young guys ready for an opportunity.”

After a scrappy opening round win against the Force on a wet night in Sydney, the Waratahs lost to the Lions, last year’s finalists, in South Africa over the weekend.

They take on the Sharks in Durban in round three, before returning to Australia for three crucial clashes against the Brumbies, Rebels and Crusaders.

“You’re going to see us play what is in front of us this year. We’ve got our structures, but when there’s an opportunity to play, we’ll play. I think you’ll also see a smarter side this year, but we’ll be taking our opportunities when they come.

“I honestly believe we’ve got a squad good enough to beat the New Zealand teams and win the competition. We’ve got a great coaching staff and an exciting squad so I’ve got a huge amount of belief in our ability.”

Holloway was in the players box when the Waratahs beat the Crusaders to win the 2014 Super Rugby final and he said there are a lot of similarities between that group and the current Waratahs squad.

“I didn’t play a huge role that year but I was training with those guys everyday. I think this year we’re a lot closer to that squad than we have been in previous years.

“We’ve got a really tight group and everyone wants to play for one another so I think it’ll be a big year.”