Super Rugby Preview
Waratahs have all the pieces to challenge - Growden
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
February 13, 2014
Michael Cheika seems to have all his pieces in place © Scrum.com
Waratahs' Super Rugby 2014 Squad
There is a wave of optimism building in Sydney after an improved 2013 season that lacked consistency as they adjusted to Michael Cheika's methods and game plan. Greg Growden says …
Last Season: Ninth overall, third in Australian conference; the Waratahs failed to reach the semi-finals for another season with the side continuing to lack consistency. Injuries to Tatafu Polota-Nau and Wycliff Palu also contributed to the side's struggle. Although a disappointing season for the team, Israel Folau managed to top most run metres as well as score the second-most tries in a season (8).
Greg Growden said of the Waratahs in 2013: Before Cheika arrived, New South Wales was the big wasteland of Australian rugby, with the Waratahs failing year in year out to get their act together due to mismanagement. There are still serious problems in Waratahland, but Cheika gradually is getting his head above it all. At least the dressing room is again harmonious. Read more ...
Russell Barwick and Greg Growden look at the Australian Super Rugby conference
Key Man: Michael Hooper has become the lead man for both the Waratahs and the Wallabies, after a huge season last year rewarded him with the Super Rugby Player of the Year and Waratahs Player of the Year awards before he claimed the John Eales Medal. Hooper is a key leader for the side, constantly found around the ruck and quick to take advantage of any loose ball while his wider running game is essential for the Tahs as they develop their attacking style.
Key Stat: Bernard Foley was something of an unsung hero last year, but a competition-high 12 try assists illustrates perfectly his importance to the team. He rejected overtures from Melbourne Rebels to remain with the Tahs, who need him to perform strongly again even though they have signed Kurtley Beale.
Rising Star: Cam Crawford moved from the Brumbies to the Waratahs and made his debut for the side against the Chiefs in the third round. He scored eight tries in seven matches, only two less than leading scorer Frank Halai bagged from a full season to demonstrate his ability as a finisher. Crawford also developed a fine partnership with Israel Folau, and they will be a pair to watch in 2014.
Season Preview: The Tahs will be looking to build upon their results from last year, having made several key signings - including Beale - to go alongside several players returning from injury. Izzy Folau produced a standout debut season, and he will be confident of stepping up again as the Tahs hold justifiable claims of making the finals for the first time since 2011; but they will only do so with a strong hand from the more experienced players within the group, and if they fixed the defensive structures that leaked 471 points last year.
Greg Growden's verdict: Michael Cheika has certainly shaken up the lazy old boys network otherwise known as the Waratahs. The Waratahs are the great disappointments of Super Rugby, constantly wasting their lush resources. At least Cheika, since taking over last year, has tried to do something about the snoozy atmosphere out at Moore Park, in particular attempting to improve their conditioning and level of fitness. The Waratahs were renowned for falling away at the end of games, but that started to change during 2013. Cheika has an impressive squad, and the Waratahs have the capability of being one of the real entertainers this season as long as he can determine early his best No 10. The big question is where Israel Folau will fit into the backline, especially as the province has an overflow of fullbacks following Kurtley Beale's move from Melbourne Rebels. Folau could easily end up in the centres although Beale also provided options as a twin playmaker outside Bernard Foley at No.12 against the Blues. The forward pack is again formidable, and their lineout problems could be solved through the signing of Bulls utility forward Jacques Potgieter. As long as Cheika can control the wayward Beale, they are a chance of going all the way.
Tip: First in Australian Conference. Finish: Third
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