Super Rugby preview
Cheika is Waratahs' best move in years
Greg Growden and ESPN Staff
February 14, 2013
The Waratahs unveil new signing Israel Folau, Sydney, Australia, December 4, 2012
Israel Folau did enough in the trials to suggest he will have more impact in rugby than he did in AFL. © PA Photos

New South Wales were an embarrassment in 2012, but the signing of Michael Cheika and Michael Hooper gives the Waratahs cause for hope in 2013, Greg Growden writes.

Last season: 11th overall, third in Australian Conference; the Waratahs suffered dreadfully with injuries last season, but they nevertheless lacked imagination and skill in attack, resilience and aptitude in defence.

Key man: Sekope Kepu has become just about the best prop in Australian rugby; he is equally capable on both sides of the scrum, and his efforts for both New South Wales and Australia in 2012 suggest he is still firmly on an upwards curve. A powerful scrummager and damaging around the field, he is the epitome of the modern prop forward.

Rising star: Israel Folau did well enough in trials to suggest that he will make more impact for the Tahs than he did in the AFL with GWS Giants. He has all the physical attributes to become a strike weapon, as he was for Melbourne Storm, Queensland and Australia in rugby league, but he will need to develop a kicking game if he is to succeed at fullback.

Season preview: Such is the level of expectation in Sydney each year that anything less than play-offs contention sees the coach under pressure for his job. But Michael Cheika won the Heineken Cup with Leinster, and he is said to have worked hard behind the scenes on the Tahs' "culture". Cheika favours strong-running counter-attacking rugby that should play to the strengths of his backs, and he has a strong squad on paper. So the Waratahs can reasonably expect to challenge for a finals berth.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Ta Ta Tahs were an embarrassment in 2012, distracted by the uncertainty concerning Michael Foley, rifts in the dressing room, and ridiculous intervention by a head office that was often out of touch. The signing of Michael Cheika as head coach is the best move the Waratahs have made in years, and this aggressive, often emotional, character will shake up a messy, often rudderless, organisation. And not before time. Michael Hooper will add so much to the Waratahs pack, but they should still remain among the also-rans.

Tip: Third in Australian conference. Finish: Seventh overall.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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