For those who aren’t purists – and we mean purists – of rugby union, Michael Cheika’s Wallabies squad announced on Friday may have prompted a bout of furious Googling.
Even for devoted fans who follow the weekly rumblings of Super Rugby, there was a surprise or two. If there was ever a group to suggest that this was a new era in the n game, this was a decent effort, with the inclusion of hooker Jordan Uelese (28 minutes in three games for Melbourne) topping the list.
The winds of change are clearly blowing through the n ranks. Quade Cooper remains on the outer, while Stephen Moore, who retires from Test rugby at the end of the season, has been replaced by Michael Hooper.
All in all, there were seven uncapped faces in the 34-man squad tasked with winning the Rugby Championship and being competitive against the might of the All Blacks, who will start the shortest of favourites in the race for the Bledisloe Cup.
The two best known are refugees from rugby league. Curtis Rona, the former Bulldog and current Western Force winger, and ex-Storm flyer Marika Koroibete may be given their chance to impress in the green and gold.
That’s not to say the other rookies aren’t worthy of their place, but their lower profiles say something about the depth of rugby in this nation, which managed to make it through an entire Super Rugby campaign without a solitary win over Kiwi opposition.
Join us on a journey of discovery as we find out who’s who in a Wallabies squad short on experience but long on intrigue.
League of his own: Curtis Rona. Photo: AAP
The 25-year-old was born in New Zealand, used to play rugby league at the Bulldogs, moved to Perth for a chance in rugby and now finds himself among the candidates for a Wallaby start.
Rona was a solid top-grader in his time in league and a prolific try-scorer, something that he would hope to bring to the Wallabies fold if given some clean air. In 50 games for the Dogs, he crossed 35 times during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Prior to that, he managed to find the line six times in seven games for the Cowboys. Alas, he only crossed once in 14 games for the Force in his debut season.
Suffice to say, he would need to rediscover his touch, or at least play in a team where he gets a sniff.
Fijian flyer: Marika Koroibete. Photo: Stuart Walmsley
It’s fair to say Koroibete hasn’t exactly been missed by the Storm, who are playing sparkling football in the NRL and are the clear premiership favourites.
In that case, let’s hope the 25-year-old Fijian product can be of some use to Cheika and the Wallabies. A strong ball carrier, he helped himself to 34 tries in 58 games for the Storm before switching codes at the end of last season. He’s crossed six times for the Rebels and has been tough to contain when given a chance, busting 35 tackles during the Super Rugby season.
Fast feet: Izaia Perese. Photo: AAP
Izzy Perese, the Queensland Reds winger, has trod a familiar path to the Wallabies set-up. He was educated at rugby nursery Anglican Church Grammar School in Brisbane before being selected for the n schoolboys side of 2014.
Always recognised as a special talent, Perese has fast feet and some genuine speed, something the Wallabies have perhaps been missing in recent campaigns. He crossed three times in 12 games for the Reds and looks well placed to take the next step, even if he needs to eradicate some errors from his game.
Tall order: Izack Rodda. Photo: AAP
It’s a good time in n rugby to be 202 centimetres tall and weigh 119 kilograms. Cheika doesn’t have locks falling from the sky (although he left out Brumbies captain Sam Carter) and Rodda was the man to benefit from a push towards the future.
Born in Lismore, but educated at Ipswich Grammar School, Rodda made his way through the schoolboy rep teams, then the n under-20s before finally ending up in the senior squad. He made 12 appearances for the Reds this season and likes the rough stuff in the middle, something that clearly appeals to his new gaffer.
Reds product: Adam Korczyk. Photo: AAP
The name may be a giveaway, but Korczyk’s parents are Polish, even though he was born in New Zealand. The 22-year-old back-rower has been a solid contributor during a tough few years for the Reds, taking the field 13 times for Queensland this season.
He can play anywhere in the back row and has made his way back from a knee injury that saw him sit out the 2016 campaign at Ballymore.
Bolter: Jordan Uelese. Photo: ARU Media
???He’s big. He’s young. He’s an absolute bolter and he might yet get a game if either Stephen Moore or Tatafu Polota-Nau do themselves any sort of harm before the Bledisloe opener on August 19.
Whether it’s desperation, lack of depth or just Cheika going with his gut (it might be all three), Uelese comes into the Wallabies squad unheralded and, for many, unheard of. That might all change should he be thrust into the deep end.
He was with the n under-20s for much of the year and was on the Rebels list three times, seeing 28 minutes on the park.
Born in Wellington, schooled in Melbourne.
Rising force: Billy Meakes. Photo: Travis Anderson
The 26-year-old has done the hard yards on the way to what could be a Wallabies cap in coming months. He’s been selected by way of Randwick, then Gloucester in the UK and back to Perth just in time for a dramatic Super Rugby campaign with the Force.
He’s managed to keep the faith and the tenacious centre did enough to catch the eye of Cheika, although he will be down the pecking order in the Wallaby midfield.