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By Waratahs Rugby Media Unit
Michael Cheika is giving up and coming NSW rugby players the chance to prove they’ve got what it takes to represent their state.
As part of his commitment to identifying and developing local talent, the HSBC Waratahs’ head coach has given 10 talented and committed club and school rugby players the opportunity to be a part of the team’s Super Rugby preparations.
“I want players to know that if they play well in their clubs, whether in colts or grade, they are a chance to be sighted and brought into the system,” said Cheika, a former Randwick player, “and I also want to try and find another player or two who can play at this level.
“We want to make sure that we are very clear of where we are looking to resource our development from - and that’s from our ranks here.
“Through this system we’ll show everyone playing club rugby or colts that there’s a clear pathway to come up and play here. It is something I am really committed to achieving.”
Those earning recognition so far are (left to right) back row: Mike Alaalatoa (NSW Academy/West Harbour), Elijah Niko (NSW Academy/Easts), David Horwitz (Scots College/NSW Academy), Jack Littejohn (former Roosters player), Richard Aho (Penrith); front row: Will Skelton (Sydney University), Peter Samu (Randwick), Kotoni Ale (NSW Academy/Manly), AJ Gilbert (Norths), Wayne Borzak (Warringah).
The rising stars will be part of the squad’s pre-season training through until February, with the aim of earning a spot in one of the HSBC Waratahs’ pre-season trial matches. “It’s difficult (to assess their potential) at club level so we want to bring a few lads in and give them some exposure,” said Cheika. “They are making sacrifices to be here but will no doubt be given an opportunity or two in the trials matches.
“That’s how it was when I played and I think it worked really well. I think that’s a great incentive for all players and it’s only fair: if you play well enough regularly and have stood out in your competition then you have earned the chance.”
The youngest of the group at just 18, Scots’ College student David Horwitz had only just finished his final HSC exam when he received the call up.
"Cheika has given us an opportunity, an audition, to see what it’s like to be part of Super 15 franchise. It helps us as well because it gives us that exposure to the next level and the confidence in our game that if we can cut it here then maybe we can do this as a professional and continue throughout a career.”
A Shute Shield stand-out with Norths, captain and country boy AJ Gilbert is another to have impressed so far. “Cheika is the straight up and down kind of guy and it’s great that he’s given these opportunities to the club guys.
“Sydney Shute Shield is the best competition in Australia so it’s really great to be able to have these opportunities.”
The players have all started training with squad and will hope to continue into 2013, when they will be looking to earn game time in the HSBC Waratahs’ trial matches against the Rebels (Hobart, February 2), Blues (Auckland, February 9) and Crusaders (Allianz Stadium, February 14) at the beginning of the 2013 season.
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Northern Suburbs will be out to defend their 2016 premiership title while the Warringah Rats will be determined to secure their first victory since 2005 in Saturday’s Shute Shield Grand Final to be played at North Sydney Oval.