Prized recruit Israel Folau will play a big part in the NSW Waratahs trials as coach Michael Cheika weighs up whether he starts the Super Rugby season at fullback or wing.
The Waratahs play their first trial against Melbourne in Hobart on Saturday week before having pipe openers against the Blues and finally the Crusaders leading into their Super Rugby opener against Queensland on February 23.
Folau is one of many pieces in the backline puzzle for Cheika to solve before the Reds’ clash.
“He’ll play, yes,” said the new Waratahs coach of former rugby league star and AFL flop Folau’s involvement in the trials.
“He’s not like someone’s Christmas present, we’re not going to unwrap him on a certain day.
“He needs to play and get used to it like every other player who has come here.
“He comes from a different code or he comes from the academy … it’s the same thing. He’s a winger or fullback at this stage.
“He’s got a good kick on him … it’s different in rugby though. Not only is it a different ball but there are different situations.”
Whatever position he plays in the trials, Cheika wants Folau to keep it simple and stick to what he does best.
“We’re just looking for him to play his natural attacking game whether it be in the air or on the ground,” Cheika said.
Halfback Brendan McKibbin, who got a late call-up to the Wallabies’ European tour last year, will captain the Waratahs in the first two trials.
Cheika said most of the players returning from Wallabies’ duty won’t feature until the third trial, creating opportunities for others to show what they have to offer.
“Because I don’t know the group intimately as far as selection is concerned I think the first one or two (trials) will definitely be big games for some of the players who are looking to secure places,” Cheika said.
“There’s some players who have been on the fringe here in the past year and then some club players as well who are playing for the possibility of a contract further down the road.
“I’ll be looking for them to bring a big intensity … not just run out and have a go.
“…The prime objective is to be ready with a team that’s able to beat Queensland in round one.”