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Opinion

Future is now for young Tahs

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Roar Rookie
15th April, 2021
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1141 Reads

The Waratahs have finally reached into the coffers to unveil the first of their marquee signings for the 2022 season, announcing that damaging backrower Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco will be joining the men in blue on their redemption mission following what will almost certainly be a disappointing season for fans and the team alike.

Rumoured to be joining Warren-Vosayaco and former captain and centurion Michael Hooper on their return to Sydney is former Wallaby Ned Hanigan, another local product plying his trade in the land of the rising sun.

These additions in key areas of weakness provide much-needed reinforcements for a floundering side sorely lacking experience, and while it may be tempting for us fans to hold our hopes until next season, the young Tahs mustn’t fall into the same trap.

Though their performance through the first five rounds of Super Rugby AU this year did little to inspire hope, their narrow loss to reigning champions the Brumbies provides a reason for optimism within this inexperienced side. The key now will be for them to capitalise on this newfound confidence and build a platform for future success, a process that may prove difficult if results don’t start turning around in the meantime.

The board sacked second-year coach Rob Penney ahead of what seemed certain to be a drubbing at the hands of the ever-confident Brumbies at the SCG>

Through the opening rounds the body language of Penney’s men on and off the field reflected a deeply troubled playing group. With the experienced ACT outfit coming off a bounce-back victory following their last-minute defeat to the top-of-the-table Reds and the Waratahs following up a record defeat to the same Reds side, prospects were dire for the men from New South Wales.

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Entering the game with the perpetually optimistic outlook that has seen me disappointed on many occasions as a Tahs fan, especially of late, there was still no denying the reality my boys were up against.

However, it was an expression brought to my attention by my girlfriend that day that reaffirmed my quiet confidence heading into the local derby. She was explaining to me how the view that tough beginnings are a burden isn’t always necessarily true, and she went on to explain that being forged in fire makes us stronger.

I couldn’t help but think of my poor hapless Tahs. While they nurse the wounds of the third-degree burns sustained through the opening of their 2021 Super Rugby AU campaign, the signs of a battle-hardened side with plenty of potential are starting to emerge.

Mark Nawaqanitawase of the Waratahs looks on

Mark Nawaqanitawase (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

As a New South Welshman raised in Queensland, I’ve lent my support to both teams from either side of the Tweed River (I know, what a cop-out), and as such I am all too familiar with such a predicament as the one the Waratahs have found themselves in. It wasn’t too long ago that a struggling Reds found themselves in such a situation.

The year was 2016 and, head coach Richard Graham, having been reappointed during the off-season, copped the swinging of the axe just two games into what would turn out to be a disastrous season. Assistant coaches Nick Stiles and Matt O’Connor were instated as co-coaches.

Sound familiar?

Though the Reds managed to notch only three wins that year and found themselves a long way from the success they experience today, the Waratahs may not be so far away.

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Some would argue that their valiant effort at the SCG was undermined by the underperformance of the Brumbies. Keep in mind though that the Waratahs are yet to run out a team even close to full strength this year, an obvious symptom of the organisation’s refusal to spend the entirety of their player budget.

Those who were missing from the match-day 23 prior to this game showed the potential of the side at full strength, namely Izaia Perese and captain Jake Gordon. The hard-running centre proving to be the ball-in-hand attacking threat they have been sorely missing over the last few years, and Gordon is bringing much-needed enthusiasm and experience to cap off a much more well-rounded performance from New South Wales.

Jake Gordon kicks the ball

Jake Gordon. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The injection of young locks Jeremy Williams and Max Douglas was also very promising, offering a solution to the ongoing lock crisis that the organisation has continually struggled to solve. It’s bringing effort rarely seen from the likes of Rob Simmons and others, with Will Harrison scoring off a charge down from Williams.

It’s also encouraging to see the likes of such young talent earning minutes early in their career as opposed to the previous strategy of allowing talent like Mack Mason and Ryan McCauley to rot on the sidelines. With the likes of Mark Nawaqanitawase, Joey Walton, Angus Bell and Will Harrison still finding their feet at the professional level, there is plenty of room for improvement within the squad. Not to mention Carlo Tizzano and Will Harris staking their claim in the back row come next season despite the incoming talent.

It was also refreshing to see some innovation in regard to the maul defence displayed against the dominant Brumbies pack. The Waratahs refused to engage the ACT attacking maul in the midfield with relative success. The key was, though, the intent, the ability to find workarounds when outmanned.

I could go on and mention other positives, such as the emergence of Dave Porecki upon his return and other promising young figures, but I think the point is clear. All this is not to say the Waratahs should be dominant or even that they should be winning the majority of their games. There are still many areas of their game that need work. However, the pieces are coming together, and this should be enough to start breeding a positive culture within the team.

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With two games left in the season, the Waratahs should be looking to prove a point and come away with victories against the Force and Rebels respectively to give them a fighting chance ahead of facing their Kiwi counterparts.

Should they wish to find success next season, they must perform today. If not, the board’s expected off-season cash splash may prove too late and we may be in for a long journey to success like that of the Reds.