The Super U19s tournament kicked off recently, with the Western Force playing the Melbourne Rebels and the NSW Waratahs playing the ACT Brumbies. In the first edition of the competition last season the NSW Waratahs dominated, season winning all their fixtures.
But in Round 1 this year, the ACT Brumbies secured a 24-22 win over the NSW Waratahs, prompting me to have a little bit more of a deep dive into how such a result could happen.
I have been involved in and around ‘pathways’ for the last 10 years and have witnessed schoolboy ‘superstars’ fail to live up to their hype, as well as the less heralded players leaving the NSW system and turn into professional rugby players.
Let’s take the 2019 Australian Schools & U18 side as an example.
Twelve NSW players were selected for this side – Lachlan Albert, Hugh Bokenham, Daniel Botha, Joe Brial, Nick Chan, John Connolly, Malachi Hawkes, Tom Hooper, Tolu Koula, Hamish Moore, Billy Pollard & Joseph Suaali’i.
Of those 12 players, only 5 stayed in NSW; Hugh Bokenham, Daniel Botha, Nick Chan, John Connolly & Hamish Moore. Now from those 5 players only 1, Daniel Botha, remains at the Waratahs. Hugh Bokenham has just signed for the Cornish Pirates, Nick Chan has spent a bit of time at the Western Force, whilst John Connolly & Hamish Moore are playing club rugby in the Shute Shield.
Isn’t the purpose of having talent identification and a “pathway” to develop players ready for Super Rugby? You will often hear NSW Waratahs staff saying “we have the largest talent pool to pick so it is inevitable we will lose some”.
Yes this is correct, however the issue is you are not identifying the right players! Let’s have a look at how some other players from the 2019 Australian U18 side progressed:
Lachlan Albert: Played 1 super rugby game for ACT Brumbies and currently playing for Eastwood in the Shute Shield.
Joe Brial: Spent 3 years in the Crusaders Academy, played NZ U20s & has just signed with the QLD Reds.
Malachi Hawkes: Played for Eastern Suburbs in 2020 before signing for Toulouse in the Top 14.
Tom Hooper: Current ACT Brumbies player in the Wallabies RWC 2023 squad.
Tolu Koula: Current NRL player with Manly Sea Eagles.
Billy Pollard: Current ACT Brumbies player.
Joseph Suaali’i: Current NRL player with Sydney Roosters, but coming back to rugby in 2025.
My question to the NSW Waratahs is; how did they let these players leave the system? Did they identify the other five as having higher potential?
Fast forward to round one between the ACT Brumbies and the NSW Waratahs in the Super U19s tournament, where the Brumbies kicked a penalty goal on full-time to win 24-22. If you have a deep dive into that Brumbies U19 squad you can identify at least 13 players who have come through the NSW Waratahs “pathway”:
Sam Sahyoun: Played NSW Waratahs U18s in 2022 and plays his club rugby in Shute Shield for Eastwood.
Boston Merete: Played club rugby in Shute Shield for Randwick.
Lleyton Tautua: Plays for Penrith in the John I Dent Cup competition.
Lachlan Hooper: Was captain of the NSW Waratahs U18s in 2022.
Dan Nelson: Played club rugby in Shute Shield for Sydney Uni.
Tino Tavana: Attends Waverley College in Sydney.
Jakob Biet: Played club rugby in Shute Shield for Eastwood.
Eli Sagala: Played club rugby in Shute Shield for Eastwood.
Angus Staniforth: Played NSW Waratahs U18s in 2022.
Cameron Johns: Attended Shore in Sydney.
Jacob Veiru: Attends Newington College in Sydney, played NSW Waratahs U18s in 2022 & 2023.
Will Hopper: Played club rugby in Shute Shield for Gordon.
Malakye Enasio: Attends Knox Grammar in Sydney, played NSW Waratahs U18s in 2023.
So looking at this list, the NSW Waratahs would have had the opportunity to identify these players for their ‘pathway’, but have seemingly deemed them as surplus to requirements which makes yesterday’s result quite significant. Looking at the NSW Waratahs U19s squad I noticed the following:
Jackson Stiel: Played 5 games in Colts 2 at Sydney University this year. Is he the best tighthead we have in NSW?
Jasper Jarvis: A simple look at records and he was playing Colts 3 for Eastern Suburbs in the finals series at loosehead prop. Yet he was selected as a hooker?
Oliver Schmude: Played 12 games in Colts 2 at Sydney University at halfback, but came on with 30 minutes to go, at flyhalf.
Oliver Nicolle: Played half the season in Colts 2 at Eastern Suburbs and finished the season there.
Ben Dufficy: Played Sydney Roosters SG Ball and ended the season in Colts 2 at Eastern Suburbs.
The above sound similar? Picking players out of position. Selecting players that have you scratching your head. Sounds eerily similar to the team that is playing in France at the moment…
How is this happening? Why do players not want to play for the NSW Waratahs anymore? I completely understand you will never get selections right 100% of the time, however it is increasingly frustrating seeing players having to leave NSW to get an opportunity.
I finish with the case of Tevita Alatini.
Tevita played for Warringah in their premiership winning Colts 1 team this season. He just started playing at tighthead prop this year and was a revelation. Tevita is from the Penrith Emus and is a proud Western Sydney boy. Tevita was injured for yesterday’s game and will be at the ACT Brumbies from 2024 onwards.