Hooper To Make First Waratahs Start
by Brendan Bradford –
Michael Hooper will make his Waratahs debut in a trial match against the Blues in Whangarei this Saturday. The 21-year-old open-side is one of six Wallabies named in the 28-man squad to travel to New Zealand and says he’s excited about pulling on the Waratahs jersey for the first time.
“I can’t wait to get into it,” he said this week.
“I’ve watched the Waratahs from when I was a kid, my mum and dad supported the Waratahs and they were the team I went for. To be able to finally play for them is something that definitely gets me excited and keen to go for the game.”
The side features six changes – five of them Wallabies – from the squad that defeated the Rebels last weekend in Hobart and will again be captained by halfback, Brendan McKibbin.
“Paddy Ryan is coming back, as are Michael Hooper, Kane Douglas, Drew Mitchell and Lachlan Turner,” said head coach Michael Cheika.
Southern Districts lock and 2012 Shute Shield Rookie of the Year, Jed Holloway has also been named in the squad and like Hooper, will represent the team for the first time.
This, and the last trial against the Crusaders next Thursday, will be trying matches and precisely the tune-up the Waratahs need ahead of their opening Super Rugby game at Suncorp Stadium against the Reds in two weeks.
“The key here is about getting game hard and feeling the way with your team mates,” said Cheika, adding that he planned to give everyone in the squad as much game time as possible.
The match gives 77-test All Black lock Ali Williams his first opportunity to lead the Blues after recently being named the side’s captain for the 2013 season. Dogged by injury last year, Williams has had a full preseason and is rearing to get on the pitch.
“I’m really excited,” he said.
“One thing I’m probably most excited about is being out in the pressure cooker with all these boys that have done the hard work together, so it’s going to be good. This is going to be the first real test. You can only really judge a captain by what happens on the field. There are a few things for me to concentrate on, but at the moment I’m loving it and having a great bunch of guys around me makes it easy.”
Blues coach, Sir John Kirwan was focused on his own side’s performance after a close loss to the Reds last weekend rather than the Waratahs’ line-up.
“We’re being pretty selfish at the moment. There’s absolutely no use looking at them, it’s about getting our systems in place,” said Kirwan.
“We realise they’ve got their first game next week and they’ll probably be playing their best side so we know they’ll be up for it, but we can’t worry too much about that.”
While it is a strong Waratahs side, it is by no means ‘their best’ as Cheika has held back several players who were heavily involved in last year’s Wallabies Spring tour.
Waratahs squad to play the Blues – Toll Stadium, Whangarei (Saturday February 9)
Michael Alaalatoa (Southern Districts)*, Richard Aho (Randwick)*, Kotoni Ale (Manly)*, Tom Carter, Cam Crawford, Kane Douglas, Israel Folau , Bernard Foley (vice-captain), Michael Hodge, Jed Holloway, Luke Holmes, Michael Hooper, Rob Horne, AJ Gilbert (Northern Suburbs)*, Tom Kingston, Matt Lucas, Brendan McKibbin (captain), Tolu Latu (Sydney University)*, Dane Maraki (Manly)*, Drew Mitchell, Elijah Niko (Eastern Suburbs)*, Greg Peterson, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse (vice-captain), Lachie Turner, Peter Samu (Randwick)*, Will Skelton (Sydney University)*, John Ulugia, Ben Volavola.
* Indicates non-contracted players
Blues Starting XV
15. Albert Nikoro, 14. George Moala, 13. Rene Ranger, 12. Francis Saili, 11. Lolagi Visinia, 10. Chris Noakes, 9. Bryn Hall, 8. Peter Saili, 7. Luke Braid, 6. Steven Luatua, 5. Ali Williams (C), 4. Liaki Moli, 3. Angus Ta’avao, 2. Quentin MacDonald, 1. Tom McCartney
Reserves: James Parsons, Tim Perry, Culum Retallick, Brendon O’Connor, Charlie Faumuina, Ronald Raaymakers, Kane Barrett, Jamison Gibson-Park, Malakai Fekitoa, Marty McKenzie, Baden Kerr, Waisake Naholo, Frank Halai.