Super AU kicks off on February 19, meaning it is less than a month away.
The Reds, Brumbies and Waratahs have announced their full squads for the coming season and the Rebels and Force can’t be too far behind.
Let’s take a look at the relative playing strength of the various sides.
|1||James Slipper||Feao Fotuaika||Cameron Orr||Angus Bell||Tom Robertson|
|2||Folau Fainga’a||Brandon Paenga-Amosa||Jordan Uelese||Tom Horton||Feleti Kaitu’u|
|3||Allan Alaalatoa||Taniela Tupou||Pone Fa’amausili||Harry Johnson-Holmes||Santiago Medrano|
|4||Caderyn Neville||Lukhan Salakaia-Loto||Trevor Hosea||Jack Whetton||Jeremy Thrush|
|5||Darcy Swain||Angus Blyth||Steve Cummins||Sam Caird||Fergus Lee-Warner|
Looking at those line-ups it hard to see how the Brumbies and Reds don’t remain at the top of the Aussie pile. Both tight fives are full of strong players with minimal change from last season.
The Force have made some great strides with the additions of Tom Robertson and Santiago Medrano but will be ruing missing out on Julian Montoya after his wife’s visa problems.
The loss of Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons and Matt Philip from the Waratahs and Rebels packs will hurt them.
That said, it’s a 23-man game, the tight five benches will have plenty to say as well.
|16||Scott Sio||Harry Hoopert||Cabous Eloff||Tetara Faulkner||Greg Holmes|
|17||Connal McInerney||Alex Mafi||Ed Craig||Dave Porecki||Andrew Ready|
|18||Tom Ross||Zane Nonggorr||Matt Gibbon||Tiaan Tauakipulu||Angus Wagner|
|19||Nick Frost||Tuania Taii Tualima||Ross Haylett-Petty||Sam Wykes||Ryan McCauley|
Very much advantage Brumbies here. The Reds have lost JP Smith and failed to strengthen their reserve locks, the Rebels look set to play Ross Haylett-Petty at lock despite listing him as a back-rower, and the Tahs have drafted in Sam Wykes in his 33rd year.
The smokies here are likely to be the Force, they’ll be hoping Greg Holmes can stay fit and that Andrew Ready and Angus Wagner can continue to improve as they did throughout last season.
I’ll be watching Ryan McCauley with interest, he had limited opportunities in three seasons at the Waratahs but at 2.03m, 115kgs and now 23 years old he should be starting to hit his straps.
|Harry Lloyd||Josh Nasser||Rhys van Nek||Alafosio Tatola||Chris Heiberg|
|Lachlan Lonergan||Matt Faessler||Joe Cotton||Jack Winchester|
|Archer Holz||Dane Zander||Robbie Abel||Kieran Longbottom|
|Tom Hooper||Ryan Smith||Chris Talakai||Victor Harris|
|James Tucker||Ben Grant||Max Douglas||Jackson Pugh|
What really stands out here is that the Rebels need to announce a few more tight five signings – the cupboard is bare outside the starting 23.
What is surprising the Waratahs’ depth is equal to or better than most. Yes, their remaining two locks are young but aren’t really giving a lot away compared to the other squads.
|6||Rob Valetini||Liam Wright||Rob Leota||Lachlan Swinton||Tomas Lezana|
|7||Tom Cusack||Fraser McReight||Isi Naisarani||Carlo Tizzano||Kane Koteka|
|8||Pete Samu||Harry Wilson||Brad Wilkin||Jack Dempsey||Brynard Stander|
|20||Jahrome Brown||Angus Scott-Young||Richard Hardwick||Will Harris||Ollie Callan|
The Reds have a clear advantage with all three of their starters playing for the Wallabies last year and likely to improve further this season. The only question may lie on Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson standing up to the heavy load of a second professional season straight after their first.
The other three squads all look like they’ll be competive with one or two internationals. I’m excited to see Carlo Tizzano make his mark this season, he and Lachie Swinton will bring a lot of fire to the Waratahs back row. The key will be for these two to control themselves.
|Luke Reimer||Seru Uru||Michael Wells||Charlie Gamble||Tim Anstee|
|Rory Scott||Sam Wallis||Josh Kemeny||Hugh Sinclair|
The Rebels are the ones with the most depth here. They’re probably wishing they could convert one of these players into a different position.
|9||Nic White||Tate McDermott||Joe Powell||Jake Gordon||Tomas Cubelli|
|10||Noah Lolesio||James O’Connor||Matt To’omua||Will Harrison||Domingo Miotti|
|21||Ryan Lonergan||Moses Sorovi||Frank Lomani||Henry Robertson||Michael McDonald|
|22||Bayley Kuenzle||Bryce Hegarty||Carter Gordon||Tane Edmed||Jack McGregor|
I’ll put my hand up and say I may have the Force bench wrong as they still have Ian Prior and Jono Lance, but I hope the young blokes get a chance to impress.
There is quality all through the starting line-ups. The Tahs probably have the most to prove compared to the other four squads.
|Isaak Fines||Lawson Creighton||James Tuttle||Jack Grant||Ian Prior|
|Lachie Albert||Kalani Thomas||Theo Strang||Ben Donaldson||Jono Lance|
|Reesjan Pasitoa||Jake Mcintyre|
The Brumbies and Force have the clear edge on depth. Melbourne look thin but have the ability to shift Reece Hodge out of the centres to back up and cover Matt To’omua.
The Reds are reportedly fuming about the loss of Carter Gordon, while Ben Donaldson shows a lot of promise for the Tahs and will be pushing for a spot over Tane Edmed.
|12||Irae Simone||Hunter Paisami||Reece Hodge||Tepai Moeroa||Kyle Godwin|
|13||Len Ikitau||Jordan Petaia||Campbell Magnay||Joey Walton||Tevita Kuridrani|
|Reece Tapine||Hamish Stewart||Young Tonumaipea||Lalakai Foketi||Richard Kahui|
|Josh Flook||Lewis Holland||Alex Newsome||Henry Taefu|
|Hudson Creighton||Grason Makara|
The Reds look best placed in midfield with a pair of Wallabies, the very solid Hamish Stewart and the promise of Josh Flook to choose from. I’ve mixed starters, bench and squad since teams will be flexible in their midfield and back-three subs.
Shout out to the Force who will have a solid starting pair with plenty to prove and a mix of young and old to back them up.
The Melbourne starters have promise but need to deliver and they run the risk of needing Hodge at ten or 15.
This will be Len Ikitau’s chance to impress having had few opportunities behind Tevita Kuridrani.
Meanwhile, there are a few options in NSW with Joey Walton able to push in one and Izaia Perese listed as a midfielder during the squad announcement.
|11||Tom Wright||Filipo Daugunu||Marika Koroibete||James Ramm||Tony Pulu|
|14||Solomone Kata||Suliasi Vunivalu||Tom Pincus||Izaia Perese||Byron Ralston|
|15||Tom Banks||Jock Campbell||Dane Haylett-Petty||Jack Maddocks||Rob Kearney|
|23||Andy Muirhead||Mac Grealy||Illy Vudogo||Triston Reilly||Jake Strachan|
|Mack Hansen||Ilasea Droasese||Lachie Anderson||Mark Nawaqanitawase||Marcel Brache|
There is some quality across the back threes and, importantly for the Wallabies, more speed than we’ve seen in a long time. Will the experience of the older custodians at the Rebels and Force be able to keep up with the quickness across all the squads?
Jock Campbell should be one to watch this season, he was outstanding for the Reds last year and will be wanting to make a mark compared to the players Dave Rennie preferred over him.
So where do those squads leave us? The Brumbies and Reds are clear favourites with the bookies and that is probably correct.
The Force will be the other team making strides. It’s a shame they missed out on Montoya, but they’ve still recruited well.