Any new Waratah jostling for a position in their trial loss on Thursday night, need only have looked to their skipper for motivation.
Michael Hooper played just 60 minutes of the trial after a two-month break, but was his team’s standout in that time, creating attacking opportunities and cutting off the Highlanders against the run of play.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson articulated what many NSW fans probably think, when discussing his captain’s impact.
“One of those things isn't he? You want to bottle that DNA and give it out to everyone else, because he's into everything,”- Daryl Gibson
“He certainly leads this team by example.”
By the end of the game, Hooper was no lone contributor, with their forwards particularly stepping up, including his replacement Brad Wilkin, a highly rated Queensland-born flanker.
Hooper was quick to dish out praise to the youngster, in his second season with the Waratahs, also singling out prop David Lolohea and new addition Dave McDuling, who lifted as the Waratahs mounted their comeback.
While he praised his side’s comeback, Hooper said the challenge was for the Waratahs to start as well as they finish, a problem he admitted they had been plagued with in recent seasons.
“I was happy for our guys to come back and show a lot of fight and especially the whole squad, guys that probably no one's heard of here (were) really putting their hand up and making a difference on the game. - Michael Hooper
“(I was) Impressed with that, (we had a) slow start, as we have done against Kiwi sides for the last couple of years.”
“The difference with great teams is they come out early and they're doing the things straight away to get them in that position to win.
“So, that's something we'll be looking to achieve going throughout the season.”
Against an All Blacks-laden Highlanders side, forced to change most of their time at the break because of restrictions on their Test players, the Waratahs rookies felt the Super Rugby heat.
“They'll get a hell of a lot (out of it) with the pace, that was a Super Rugby pace game and playing against guys and some bigger lights than some have experienced.
“I’m happy that they've got to experience that and if they're needed this year, they'll be ready to go.”
Decisions over some key positions in the Waratahs lineup seem far from settled, with all three halfbacks getting equal game time and Gibson unable to pick a standout of the trio.
The Waratahs take on the Force in their opening Super Rugby clash on Saturday February 25.