Karmichael Hunt gets an early chance to apply pressure in Kurtley Beale’s regular position when the NSW Waratahs play their opening Super Rugby trial against the Highlanders on Friday.
Off-season signing Hunt will line up at inside-centre alongside Lalakai Foketi in a mostly second-string team captained by Will Miller.
The 32-year-old Wallaby was given a career lifeline by Tahs coach Daryl Gibson after missing the entire Queensland Reds 2018 campaign when Reds mentor Brad Thorn refused to select him following a second brush with drugs charges.
Gibson has rested his frontline Wallabies, including the likes of Michael Hooper, Bernard Foley, Israel Folau and Beale, along with returning veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, for the match in Alexandra, New Zealand.
But he says centre is the position earmarked for utility Hunt.
“When we were recruiting him, we always had that position in mind,” Gibson said.
“We wanted to bring a real defensive edge and physicality to our side and with Adam Ashley-Cooper – a renowned defensive genius – and Karmichael really gives us some stick there and good depth.
“I’ve been very impressed with his professionalism and the condition he has come in.
“By his own admission, he had a year away from the rigours of training professionally and the physical contacts you take.
“He’s been very professional about how he goes about his stuff and the squad have welcomed him with open arms.”
Friday’s game will also mark the first appearance for big South African recruit Le Roux Roets.
Gibson hopes the second-rower will add depth and punch to his pack and the coach accepts here will be comparisons with ex-Springbok Jacques Potgieter wio made such an impact in the Waratahs’ 2014-winning campaign.
“Those similarities are always going to be made with Jacques,” he said.
“We’re very certain with what we want from Le Roux in terms of a big-bodied lock who is strong at scrum time, good at set-pieces and in defence. And it’s also about creating depth.”
Halfback Nick Phipps sat out Wednesday’s session with a calf injury, but the 70-cap Wallaby is expected to be fit for round one of Super Rugby.
Waratahs XV (1-15)
Harry Johnson-Holmes, Andrew Tuala, Shambeckler Vui, Jed Holloway, Ryajn McCauley, Lachlan Swinton, Will Miller (capt), Hugh Sinclair, Mitch Short, Mack Mason, Cameron Clark, Karmichael Hunt, Lalakai Foketi, Curtis Rona, Alex Newsome. Res: JP Sauni, Rory O’Connor, Chris Talakai, Le Roux Roets, BJ Edwards, Pat Tafa, Jake Gordon, Ben Donaldson, Will Harrison, Richard Woolf, Will Harris, Cody Walker.