The young stars to watch in 2018

Fionn Roar Guru

73 Have your say

    The 2018 Super Rugby season is almost upon us. While you keep up with all the excitement try and keep an eye out for possible future Wallabies stars.

    Here are four relatively inexperienced players – one from each Australian Super Rugby team – who show a lot of potential and may be required by the Wallabies in 2018.

    Jordan Uelese – Melbourne Rebels
    Australian stalwart Stephen Moore has retired, while Wallabies great Tatafu Polota-Nau has moved to the United Kingdom. Australia is thus looking extremely short on experienced hookers of international quality.

    Although Polota-Nau, who must surely be in close to career-best form, qualifies under the foreign eligibility rule, given his age, his propensity for injury and the extremely high injury rate in the Aviva Premiership, Australia cannot be certain that he will be available for the Wallabies throughout 2018 and 2019.

    made his debut for the Wallabies in 2017 and has played two games for the national side, one fewer than his three for the Rebels. In his few appearances for the Wallabies he demonstrated himself as being strong in the scrum, having power both carrying and in defence, and being capable of pilfering.

    There are some questions around his line out throwing, so hopefully he practices and improves his throwing in 2018.

    No-one is expecting Uelese to show Malcolm Marx-like abilities, but with his size and strength, along with the fact he is probably Australia’s back-up hooker after Polota-Nau at this point, Australia needs a strong season from Uelese in 2018.

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    Tolu Latu – New South Wales Waratahs
    As with Jordan Uelese, Australian fans must hope for a great season from Latu in 2018. He started 2017 brilliantly and was surely Australia’s best hooker for much of the Super Rugby season. He is extremely difficult to move over the ball, possesses good skills and appears solid in both the scrum and the line out.

    Unfortunately his discipline must be improved upon at times as well as his decision-making, as he gave away too many penalties at times in 2017. Michael Cheika also said that there were questions over his fitness.

    If Latu is able to improve his fitness and discipline, he could be extremely valuable for the Wallabies moving forward. In recent years Australia has struggled to turn the ball over when David Pocock has been absent. At such moments Latu could provide an alternative to Pocock. Should he play alongside Pocock, the Wallabies would be extremely threatening at the breakdown.

    Unless Andrew Ready has a massive improvement on his 2017 season it can be expected that Latu will likely be the next choice hooker after Polota-Nau and Uelese. With a very good season under his belt it is not outside the realm of possibility that he overtakes Uelese in the order of preferences.

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Samu Kerevi – Queensland Reds
    Samu Kerevi is an attacking freak with the ball in hand, probably second only to Israel Folau among current Wallabies. He can bust tackles and break the line with ease, his footwork is wonderful for such a big man and he is not at all selfish when it comes to passing. He also possesses a sweet offloading game.

    His defensive positioning at outside centre is not quite good enough yet. He is better at defending at inside centre, but it seems that Kurtley Beale has that position locked down. Kerevi seems likely to play outside centre again for the Reds.

    Tevita Kuridrani is one of the world’s elite defenders at outside centre. Unfortunately he is not offering as much on attack as he once did. His distribution game has never been a strength, he is not particularly fast for an international centre and he is no longer making the line breaks he once did.

    While he is by no means a poor option at outside centre, it would be nice if pressure was put on his position by a player who offers international-quality defence and attack.

    Perhaps Reece Hodge will do this if played at 13 for the Rebels, but it would be nice to also see significant defensive improvements from Kerevi in 2018. He has a new coach in Brad Thorn, who was a ruthless defender when he played the game, and it can only be assumed that he will emphasise defence just as strongly in his coaching.

    If Kerevi can improve his defence to an international standard, he would allow for a far more threatening Australian backline in attack.

    (Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

    Joe Powell – Brumbies
    Will Genia is world class when in form. He is now, however, 30 years old. There are no certainties that he will remain injury free or be able to maintain top form, especially given the number of minutes he is forced to play by Cheika.

    If we want to give Genia the best possible chance of making it to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in top form, his workload must be carefully managed until then, and if Genia is injured, we need somebody steady and reliable to start for the Wallabies. This could equally be Michael Ruru or Jake Gordon, but Cheika has thus far shown less interest in them.

    Powell has a very quick and accurate pass. He is very fast, gets to a lot of breakdowns and is speedy to make a decision and clear the ball.

    Joe has a number of issues in his game that can be worked upon. First, he is untidy with the ball at the back of mauls and at breakdowns a bit too often. He needs to really treasure the possession and ensure he minimises the number of times he knows the ball on.

    Second, it would be nice to see Powell offer a little more in terms of a running threat in 2018.

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    The Crowd Says (73)

    • February 5th 2018 @ 6:28am
      Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | February 5th 2018 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      All good Fionn.
      This is refreshing after suffering through illogical defences and attacks of certain nameless 10’s in recent articles. Not to mention the observations of people viewing rugby from different planets.?
      There should not be too much controversy in response to your work here.

      The big (literally) one though that i am looking for is the emerging 6/8 combo, the one part galloping stallion, the other part junkyard mongrel that we need in gold by ’19.
      Apologies to all emerging hookers out there but if Poey could practice his throwing in and scrum packing we could have space for him, Hoops and a couple of big hard jumping units at six and eight.

      • February 5th 2018 @ 8:14am
        Selector said | February 5th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        I could not be more interested to see how Naisarani and Valentini perform as a duo. Although I tell you what they will be stiff up for competition at the Brumbies, because Fakasoliea and McCaffrey played pretty well in the trial too.

        Timu came into some serious form in the NRC and is a hard running 8 that Australia has been longing for. So he is another consideration. His combo with Higgimbotham is also pretty exciting. I really hope everything I heard about Higgers being injured, rather than overlooked last year.

        Haylett-Petty was starting to showcase his skills for the force last year, will be interested to see where he fits within the Rebels backrow. I also agree with Fionn that hopefully Timani (from previous discussions) goes up another gear this year.

        Dempsey is the only 6 or 8 I am interested in from the Tahs right now and we will have to wait for a few months to see how he comes back.

        • Roar Guru

          February 5th 2018 @ 9:57am
          Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          You two are right about 6s and 8s being the really important ones.

          I would have had Naisarani for the Brumbies—but he doesn’t become eligible until 2019 now as a result of breaking his residency in Australia.

          And I would have had Valetini, but I just suspect he is a bit young and the jump to SR from NRC is too big. I think it will take him at least this year to really find his feet at SR. I would love to be proven wrong and for him to bring his NRC form to SR, however.

          Agree it would have been cool in a lot of ways if Pocock had made the switch to hooker. Being able to play Pocock and Hooper without compromising the backrow would have been a godsend.

          • Roar Rookie

            February 5th 2018 @ 12:49pm
            Don said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

            It will be fascinating to see what Cheika does should Caleb Timu and a few others at 6&8 be standout players in Super Rugby and we also have both Pocock and Hooper available.

            Will he revert back to Pooper and expect his locks to give extra to cover what the Number 8 should? It hasn’t worked previously.
            Will he finally put either Pocock or Hooper on the bench?

            I just hope we have 3 or 4 really good options at 6&8 so Cheika has to make a tough decision and only start one number 7.

            • February 5th 2018 @ 6:04pm
              Mmmmm..k said | February 5th 2018 @ 6:04pm | ! Report

              Popper has worked before.

              • Roar Rookie

                February 6th 2018 @ 8:02am
                Don said | February 6th 2018 @ 8:02am | ! Report

                It only worked when it was new.
                Other sides just started playing more to the set pieces and starved us of any quality ball very quickly.

                We went into a test with just 2 quality lineout options at one stage…

              • February 6th 2018 @ 8:04am
                Fionn said | February 6th 2018 @ 8:04am | ! Report

                Yeah, I think it was a good tactic in the RWC… Until New Zealand worked out how to nullify it in the final. Since then it has been of questionable effectiveness.

                The problem is that Naisarani won’t be eligible this year, so we have to hope that guys like Scott Higginbotham, Timani, Dempsey, Timu, Valetini, RHP have a good season so we have some decent quality international 6s/8s.

                Hanigan is not the answer. He didn’t stand out at Super Rugby level, and his performance at the international stage has been analysed by so many that it need not be spoken about again.

          • February 5th 2018 @ 1:54pm
            jameswm said | February 5th 2018 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

            huh? What did Naisarani do to push back his eligibility?

            That’s not good.

        • February 5th 2018 @ 10:46am
          Markus said | February 5th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

          Yeah really good to hear that Fakaosliea looked strong on the weekend too. He was well down the list during the NRC and only really got game time with the injury to Ben Hyne.

          Australian rugby needs as many big ball running back rowers in form as it can get. The Brumbies and Reds as you say look to have some coverage there now, the Rebels may need another one once Mafi has to finish up with them, and the Tahs have really failed to find a replacement for Palu.

    • February 5th 2018 @ 7:25am
      Selector said | February 5th 2018 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      Thanks Fionn

      Yes, certainly players I am watching very closely this year. Particularly the Halfback and Hooker battles.

      I think that Uelese and Latu could be a fantastic hooker combination if both perform and stay fit. Uelse is strong, great in contact and abrasive in defence. Latu is a strong defender and fantastic over the ball. Both are relatively good in the set piece. (pending form) I would have Uelese start and Latu come off the bench with 25 remaining.

      As you probably know, I am not convinced on Powell just yet and I think he really needs to show more to his game if he wants to be a Wallabies selection. I hope Gordon gets more game time, although again I am not sure he is the answer either. I guess I was hanging my hat on Louwrens coming through, so now I am really not sure who are our 3 best HB’s to put in a Wallabies squad.

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2018 @ 9:58am
        Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        I can’t disagree on your halfback thoughts, and share your concern.

        Really a shame that Louwrens didn’t get picked up. Hopefully Cheika looks a little closer at Ruru this year?

        • February 5th 2018 @ 4:02pm
          Cuw said | February 5th 2018 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

          i think the young boy from 7S team Henry Hutchison signed up for super rugger – it will be interesting to see how he goes.

          onlything , he is quite small like DMac or smaller 🙂

          i thought Reds Magnay will really come up , coz he had real pace . seems he has gone abroad at what 21?

          • February 5th 2018 @ 10:22pm
            Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 10:22pm | ! Report

            Yeah it’s sad with Magnay, ain’t it? Clearly thought he would learn better at the Crusaders (probably true…).

    • February 5th 2018 @ 8:57am
      mzillikazi said | February 5th 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Morning Fionn. Good to see you writing again..thanks. Just back from NZ…Otago mainly…and have just quickly read your piece, and now shooting off, but will read more carefully later.

      BTW, how is your heart rate after Sat. Irl v France…..I was traveling and did not have to endure the 40/50 phases, and the long drop goal.

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2018 @ 9:59am
        Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:59am | ! Report

        How was the hiking, mate? I really want to get to New Zealand’s south island sometime soon.

        Haha, I could hardly take it, to be honest. Great reaction from Sexton also!

        • February 5th 2018 @ 6:18pm
          mzillikazi said | February 5th 2018 @ 6:18pm | ! Report

          Hiking was magical, such wonderful scenery. Met some great people too…..not much on the rugby front though…except for staying with a Swiss lady whose daughter plays for the Swiss Sevens team.

          Mani, Ramona (RC Bern)

          Ramona is the tackler in this pic. She spent a year at school in Gore, Southland….probably improved a bit over that year !!!!

          • February 5th 2018 @ 9:10pm
            Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

            MZ, Just spent a week in Qtown recently myself, in a heatwave!
            Beautiful swimming in the lake. Clear as a mountain lake really?.
            Didn’t have any rugby arguments though. Everyone agrees more when Aussies have no Super form.
            (I swatted a fly in Mt Manganui and boasted that it was the first OZ victory in NZ in over a year).

            But luckily for my debating habit the Roar is as logical as a bogan pub at closing time.

            • February 6th 2018 @ 7:43am
              Fionn said | February 6th 2018 @ 7:43am | ! Report

              KCOL, when I finish my thesis this year I am very tempted to spend a fortnight in New Zealand’s south island just wandering around the mountains, valleys and lakes. It does look stunningly beautiful.

              • February 6th 2018 @ 8:24am
                Muzzo said | February 6th 2018 @ 8:24am | ! Report

                Just a word of advice Fionn, mate, please don’t go into the NZ high country,or the Alps, without an experienced guide, as through experience in the past, Australians do have a very bad name of the emergency services being called out.
                Back in the day, as a young fella, around the Wanaka area, we quite often, were called out, for the search & rescue part, around Mt Aspiring. Which in fact, was classed as a magnet, for adventurers. Mainly Australian. In all, it’s been happening for decades. Cheers.

              • February 6th 2018 @ 8:30am
                Fionn said | February 6th 2018 @ 8:30am | ! Report

                Thanks for the advice. Wouldn’t want to add to the statistics.

          • February 5th 2018 @ 10:23pm
            Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 10:23pm | ! Report

            I’ve ever actually been to NZ, mate. Am very jealous, but good to hear you enjoyed it.

            Yeah you’d say so, wouldn’t you! I didn’t know rugby was even really played in Switzerland..

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2018 @ 9:08am
      Machooka said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      Thanks Fionn for the read… and good to see your appreciation for some young hookers.

      Likewise, not a mention of Foley… anywhere! 😉

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2018 @ 9:59am
        Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:59am | ! Report

        I don’t start propaganda, Machooka, I merely respond to it.

    • February 5th 2018 @ 9:10am
      Train Without A Station said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      Very interesting the contrast in Kerevi and Kuridrani.

      What attributes are the most valuable to have? Not sure there’s a definite answer.

      As for Uelese’s throwing. Of course needs to improve but it’s not something I’d be too worried about getting there. I think he’s only been playing hooker since 2014 or 2015 having moved from back row. As somebody whose made the same move I can say it’s taken me into my 3rd year to feel more comfortable throwing. The more time that passes, the better Jordan will get.

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2018 @ 10:01am
        Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 10:01am | ! Report

        Yeah, its’ not totally clear, is it? I suspect it comes down to the makeup of the rest of the backline. If we had a strong defending 10 and a strong defending 12 then I would be tempted to start Kerevi at 13. With Foley at 10 and Beale at 12 I would start Kuridrani above him.

        I think you’re right on Uelese and am sure he will improve, but the question marks around his current throwing still needed to be pointed out.

        Incidentally, I saw the Rebels arrive at the pub I was at on Saturday night as they had come for dinner after the trial. First time I’ve seen him life and he is a monster of a kid, isn’t he? Couldn’t believe how big he was.

      • February 5th 2018 @ 12:05pm
        Perthstayer said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

        TWAS and Fionn

        Tom Youngs moved form centre to hooker. Throwing was poor but improved. 91% success in in domestic and Europe in 2014 with Leicester (helped by Parling no doubt)

        BUT…. Youngs was Wilkinson like in his desire to learn and practise.

        • Roar Guru

          February 5th 2018 @ 12:32pm
          Train Without A Station said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

          Youngs also made the move at least 8 years prior to 2014…

          • February 5th 2018 @ 1:42pm
            Perthstayer said | February 5th 2018 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

            TWAS – yawn….”8 years” is misleading.

            In “2008/9 season, when he was persuaded to switch to hooker” – source Wiki. My 2014 stats misled you (although the correct maths to 2014 is 6 years).

            Youngs had 84% throw success in 2012. So that’s after 4 years as hooker

            Uelese has had 3 seasons at hooker.

            I compared 4/5 seasons to 3. After 3 Youngs throwing was scratchy so if Uelese has the dedication then he too may mimic Youngs improvement.

            • Roar Guru

              February 5th 2018 @ 1:44pm
              Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

              I think it’s easy to forget how young Uelese is.

              I’m pretty confident that he will improve, and he looks like a special talent.

            • February 5th 2018 @ 5:35pm
              Train Without A Station said | February 5th 2018 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

              Youngs was training as a full time pro the entire time.

              Jordan has been in a professional system since November 2016.

              His throwing was greatly improved from JWC 2016 to 2017. I don’t doubt it will keep improving at that rate for the next year or two at least.

    • February 5th 2018 @ 9:18am
      Tooly said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      Youngsters not stars have a lot to do would be a more accurate headline .
      Uelese and Latu have done very little that puts them above Ready .
      Powell is little more than handy and Kerevi is great in attack but is completely lost in the centres as is Hodge .

      • February 5th 2018 @ 9:52am
        jameswm said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        I’m far from sold on Powell. I’d have ruru, Gordon and (if fit) Louwrens ahead of him.

        Latu and Uelese on the other hand – yes they are ahead of Ready. Reaady was ordinary most of last year. Latu was fantastic first half of the season, and Uelese came from nowhere to play strongly in his 2 tests, including holding up the backup scrum against strong SA pressure, plus getting good go forward in attack.

        • Roar Guru

          February 5th 2018 @ 10:03am
          Fionn said | February 5th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          I share your concerns about Powell, guys. That said, I see enough in him that I think there is a lot of potential. I agree that on 2017 form he should be behind Ruru. Gordon looks like he would make a great finisher off the bench, but I want to see more consistency and discipline from him.

          Hopefully all three improve this year. I don’t really mind who the anointed one is (although Ruru would be my first preference, but Cheika doesn’t seem interested), I just want someone other than Phipps to become backup.

          • February 5th 2018 @ 1:32pm
            jameswm said | February 5th 2018 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

            Powell is good don’t get me wrong. He has a good, crisp pass which helps the go forward. I don’t see him as the running threat or defender as the other 3, and I watched Ruru quite closely one NRC game and was very impressed with his game management. he seems to have time.

            • February 6th 2018 @ 7:44am
              Fionn said | February 6th 2018 @ 7:44am | ! Report

              Agreed on Ruru.

              I think Louwrens possibly looked even better in his few matches at the start of the season. Sad that he wasn’t picked up.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 5th 2018 @ 12:32pm
          Don said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

          Not sure how Ready was “ordinary for most of last year “ when he hardly played SR. After the early season demotion for playing up off field, and Stiles then backing an out of form Moore and a developing Mafi, Ready hardly saw any quality game time.

          In the NRC Ready was again really strong.

          If he gets a clear shot this year, and I expect he will under Thorn, then he’ll show that 2016 form that should have seen him on tour with the squad.

          Unfortunately for him and partly of his own doing, he has given Uelese a head start on him.

          • Roar Guru

            February 5th 2018 @ 12:36pm
            Train Without A Station said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

            I don’t see him getting too much of a shot under Thorn. The internal trial on the weekend used mostly first choice starters. Ready came off the bench for the much weaker side. Appears to be 3rd choice at best.

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