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Enough of realistic expectations, let's get excited about future Wallabies

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16th April, 2024
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If there’s one thing Australian rugby is good at – and at time of writing, one thing might be all we can hope for – it’s generating Next Big Things. No sooner has an up-and-comer put in an eye-catching performance than he is immediately talked up as a potential Wallaby and in all likelihood the saviour of the nation.

Unfortunately, the next phase comes along with terrifying speed: the chorus of caution, the cacophony of Cassandras warning that we must not place too much expectation on the youngster, for any or all of the following reasons:

  1. The pressure will destroy him
  2. The disappointment if he fails will destroy us
  3. He’s not really that good anyway and you’re an idiot for thinking he is

Now, I understand why people tend to be wary, and it’s certainly true that premature hype can be counterproductive in a player’s development. But let’s be honest here: we are not players, we are not coaches, we are not administrators of Rugby Australia or any Super Rugby franchise. We’re just fans, and our only goal is to derive as much pleasure from the game as we can. And given that that goal, for an Australian, is as hard to reach as it ever has been, how about we allow ourselves to get excited to a delusional extent about the possibly-brilliant rookies who burst onto the scene?

Will Harrison of the Waratahs celebrates kicking the winning field goal in golden point during the round eight Super Rugby Pacific match between NSW Waratahs and Crusaders at Allianz Stadium, on April 12, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Will Harrison celebrates slotting a match-winning field goal against the Crusaders. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Certainly the opportunity is there. Look at the players who are swelling the hearts of Wallaby tragics everywhere right now. This last weekened we saw some spectacular moves from Darby “The Bomber” Lancaster, and frankly his performance convinced me that he is quite likely to break try-scoring records on the wing for Australia.

The Bomber was ably assisted by the man who’s been getting us excited for over a year now: “Cowboy” Carter Gordon. His bullet passes, powerful runs and crunching tackles make him the ideal man to fill the role we’ve been desperate to fill for years: the role of “a cross between Stephen Larkham and Mark Ella who will guarantee World Cup success”.

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And what about Noah “Zark” Lolesio? If Cowboy can’t do it, he surely can, with his sure boot and calm demeanour.

Whoever fills the No. 10 jersey, they’ll have ample resources to exploit out wide. Not only Lancaster, but the electric Corey “Power” Toole, who may be the fastest man ever to play rugby, or anything else. The only thing harder than catching up to Corey is resisting his charms.

All of these men, and more – Max “Factor” Jorgensen, Josh “That was a complete” Flook, Fraser “The Dismissal” McReight for example – are sensational rugby players who you can’t watch without feeling certain that a new Wallaby golden age is upon us. And if you’re not feeling certain of that, how about you try a little bit harder?

Darby Lancaster scored a hat-trick against the Highlanders at AAMI Park, on April 13, 2024, in Melbourne. (Photo by Josh Chadwick/Getty Images)

Because seriously, I don’t know how much more I can take of Australian rugby negativity. I don’t know how many more times I can see a player suggested as a star of the future, only to provoke a torrent of naysaying. “One good game doesn’t make a Wallaby”. “His attacking skill doesn’t compensate for paper-thin defence”. “Cracks under pressure”. “Can’t kick”. “Too young”. “Too small”. “Basically the Antichrist”. There is no performance so thrilling that the average Australian rugby fan can’t extinguish any optimism resulting from it.

And I get it. I’ve seen all the false dawns too. It wasn’t that long ago that Tane “Cheeto Top” Edmed was getting rave reviews for his composure and good hands, only to abruptly drop into an abyss of missed kicks and ginger disappointment. I’ve seen the parade of surefire superstars who haven’t lived up to expectations. I’ve become acclimatised to seeing players who seem about to crack the rugby world wide open suffer season-ending injuries with a frequency that makes one fairly certain that God exists and is an All Black.

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And I know that the attitude I am promoting here is a profoundly unrealistic one. But frankly, I’m sick of being realistic. I don’t want to assess my team’s chances soberly anymore. I want to be drunk on hope, intoxicated with the joy of delusional optimism, spinning in a rose-coloured haze of irresistible momentum towards gold-jersey world domination and highlight reels that will still be playing a hundred years hence.

At least for a moment or two.

So even if only briefly – say, one day a week – how about we take time out to look at the best of our players and say to ourselves, “I see a champion – there can be no possible doubt”?

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