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What if union, not league, was more popular in Australia?

Israel Folau, the rugby league convert, would be a walk up selection in either code. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)
Roar Pro
17th September, 2016
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4649 Reads

The Wallabies have been on a sad decline for almost two decades. They just don’t have enough talent and/or mindset to compete with the All Blacks for top billing.

The unfortunate paradox is that the Wallabies are probably the only team in the world with enough of a rugby focus and the talent pool to take the All Blacks down regularly, if the majority of the talent wasn’t in league.

All of the wash-up from Wallabies vs Argentina:
» LORD: When Genia fires, the Wallabies fire
» Pocock sidelined by broken hand
» Five talking points
» What changes should the Wallabies make?
» DIY Player ratings
» Read the full match report
» Watch all the highlights

Whether or not many of the great rugby league players would have also been great rugby union players is a discussion for another day. For today’s arguments sake let’s just say yes if they grew up playing union then they would have been every bit the world-class players they are in league, if not better.

I have chosen who would be in contention for the Wallabies side from the current Australian NRL players, by my eyes it would look to be a mighty talent pool, exceeding even New Zealand’s.

1. Matt Scott/Scott Sio
Rugby league’s residing statesman is a big game force that comes out on top, would be an imposing figure if he possessed the scrum craft. With a reduced aerobic focus and some weight added to his frame Matt Scott would have no issue claiming a gold jersey.

2. Paul Gallen/Stephen Moore (c)
Captain versus captain. One is state and one is country but I have no doubt at all Paul Gallen would claim this jumper. His competitive drive is almost without peer and his work rate would serve him well in the 15 game.

3. Josh Papalii/Sekope Kepu
The explosive, aggressive, offloading running game of Josh Papalii, along with mobile bone jarring defence should see him through. Scrum craft would be the only point of difference.

4. Rob Simmons
Very little tall timber in the current NRL representative crop to challenge this specialised union position.

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5. James Tamou/Kane Douglas
Tamou stands at 1.96m which is 6cm shorter than Douglas, huge difference in the line out game. Tamou is definitely the more athletic game breaking player but perhaps the bench may be more when he would land.

6. Boyd Cordner/Scott Fardy
The lack of NRL tall timber shows again. Number 6 should be a genuine line out option and 8cm between Cordner and Fardy is too much of a drop in height. Cordner would most likely be challenging for a Number 7 jumper anyway.

7. Matt Gillett/Michael Hooper
Gillett is a classic modern rugby league second rower, brilliant line runner, and almost impossible to beat defensively. He is very close to the build of Richie McCaw but in my opinion Michael Hooper is a world class Number 7 and would not be displaced by Gillett.

He would however be displaced by Pocock because as you can see below I would go another way with Number 8.

8. Andrew Fifita/David Pocock

Andrew Fifita would be a dominant rampaging Number 8. His tackle busting power game would cause havoc among international defensive lines. This would see Pocock go to Number 7 for a much more balanced back row.

9. Cameron Smith/Will Genia
Game sense? Smith has it in abundance. Genia is a sharp runner and passer of the ball but the way Smith would run his forwards, distribute the ball, and further utilise his kicking game would swing huge momentum the Wallabies way.

10. Johnathan Thurston/Bernard Foley
This one isn’t really a fair contest and anyone who tries to argue against it is kidding themselves. Foley may shade Thurston for pace but everything else swings Thurston’s way, and not by a small margin. H

ad he grown up playing union every bit of game sense, and big game play would be applicable to union. Add to that a peerless competitive drive and you have a very full trophy cabinet a Wallabies HQ.

11. Semi Radradra/Rob Horne
Rob Horne is a competitor and wing is definitely a very different prospect in union than it is to League. That being said Aussie Semi has world class x-factor. Think a slightly bigger Joe Rokocoko in a gold jersey.

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12. Greg Inglis/Matt Giteau
This was the toughest one to pick. Very different styles and I have been a massive fan of Matt Giteu for years.

Given his fathers league connection I thought there may have even been a possibility of him defecting when he fell out of favour with union. I believe Inglis shades Giteau here on pure athletic class.

They may play the game differently but if you see Inglis in the imposing mid field Sonny Bill mould that the All Blacks used then for mine it is very clear.

13. Jarryd Hayne/Tevita Kuridrani
The code-hopping athletic sensation that is Jarryd Hayne would have to find a home in the Wallabies line-up somewhere. With his jamming defensive style and stylish attack he could could play anywhere from ten though to 15. I see a balanced team with him at 13 though.

14. Israel Folau/Adam Ashley-Cooper
Adam Ashley-Cooper is the unfortunate casualty of Folau being pushed back to the wing by the classy rugby league fullbacks. As sad as I am to say it Ashley-Cooper versus Folau is not a hard one to call, Adam Ashley-Cooper has delivered on the big stage for Wallabies before but his head is on the chopping block here. Folau is an aerial target with superior athletic ability.

15. Billy Slater/Darius Boyd
Class class class. And in Billy’s case pure speed as well. If Slater is fit he is the best fullback in both games hands down. If he is not fit then Darius Boyd is no shabby back up. The Queensland connection alone of Smith Scrum-half, Thurston Fly-half, and Slater Fullback would completely change the complexion of the Wallabies.

This Wallabies team would reclaim the Bledisloe and be walk up world cup winners. As it stands though we will most likely be watching at least another ten years of All Black dominance.