Lote Tuqiri Assists Izzy Prior To Trials
by Terry Smith –
Lote Tuqiri, who made the big jump from rugby league to the Waratahs without a hitch, is helping Israel Folau adapt to his new code as he prepares to pull on a blue NSW jumper for the first time.
After watching Folau train enthusiastically with his new colleagues in bright sunshine at McKay Oval, coach Michael Cheika declared: “We’re very happy with Izzy, who’s definitely an X-factor player with beautiful skills. He’s getting involved with the tackles, too.”
If he comes through the trials without mishap, there is a chance Folau could be rushed into the Waratah squad for the Super Rugby opener against the Reds in Brisbane on February 23. Hence the importance of being mentored by Tuqiri in the countdown to the trials where he is likely to be used as a winger.
The Waratahs open with a trial against the Reds in Hobart on February 2nd, followed by games against the Blues in Whangarei on February 9th and a home game against the Crusaders at Allianz Stadium on February 14th.
In case he is needed at fullback, Folau is working hard to improve his kicking with both feet. “I’m enjoying the Waratah group, which is older than the guys at the Western Sydney Giants,” said Folau. “ My heritage is Tongan, and there are quite a few Tongans in the team.”
He wouldn’t be drawn on which club he will join, although Sydney University are said to be the front-runners. “Lote says club footy is like park footy,” he says, “A bit of fun. I’m looking forward to it.”
Wallaby flanker Michael Hooper, who joined the squad on Monday, said he felt he had come home as he was a Manly junior before having a stint with the Brumbies. “It’s great fun to be back,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going head to head with David Pocock, who’s a great player.” Indeed, a Test cap could hang in the balance.
Summing up the mood of his Waratahs, Cheika said: “There’s a lot of energy around and we’ve got a fresh injection from the arrival of all but four of the Wallabies. Everyone is positive.” He said a key figure will be assistant coach Alan Gaffney, whose portfolio is the launching of attacks from the set pieces. “It’s a great opportunity to attack when there’s a limited number of defenders on the field.” Cheika declares.