Israel Folau’s rugby union learning curve is likely to get steeper on Saturday when he plays his first match against a New Zealand Super Rugby franchise.
Folau, who impressed with a two-try rugby debut against Melbourne in Hobart last week, has been named in a 28-man NSW Waratahs squad to face the Blues in Whangarei.
The Blues invariably play a free-flowing style which could test the defensive capabilities of rugby rookie Folau, who played at fullback, outside centre and wing against the Rebels.
Dangerous All Blacks back Rene Ranger is among the players listed to line up for the Blues.
Former NRL and AFL player Folau is also likely to be subjected to more pressure from within his own ranks this week, with Wallabies wingers Drew Mitchell and Lachie Turner each having their first hit-out of the year.
Along with Folau they are all candidates for places in the Waratahs back three.
Both Turner and Mitchell will be especially keen to do well in the early weeks of the year after each missed a substantial chunk of the 2012 campaign due to injury.
Other Wallabies listed for their first run of 2013 with NSW are openside flanker and prize recruit Michael Hooper, prop Paddy Ryan and lock Kane Douglas.
Test centre Rob Horne, who some pundits believe could be squeezed out of the run-on side by Folau’s arrival, has been named for a second straight week.
If Folau starts the Super season at fullback, with Turner and Mitchell on the wings, valued utility Adam Ashley-Cooper could displace Horne from the No.13 jersey.
New Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is also likely to use Saturday’s trial to look at his inside back options.
Wallabies utility back Berrick Barnes is expected to miss next week’s final trial against the Crusaders with a knee injury he suffered earlier this week.
Exciting youngster Bernard Foley, who has been named vice-captain for Saturday’s game behind halfback Brendan McKibbin, finished the 2012 Super season at five-eighth with Barnes at inside centre.
Reliable veteran Tom Carter is a proven performer at inside centre.
Saturday’s game will give Cheika another chance to assess the merits of several uncontracted players from Sydney clubs, who impressed against Melbourne.
Among them is Whangarei-born prop Dane Maraki.
One player unavailable is lock Ollie Atkins, who was suspended for one week after being found guilty of tackling Melbourne’s Luke Jones in the air in open play.