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Sydney University’s premiership winning hooker Tolu Latu and former Australia A winger Matt Carraro have become the latest addition to the NSW Waratahs senior squad for the 2014 Super Rugby season.
Among seven newcomers to the 2014 squad today announced by NSW Waratahs Head Coach Michael Cheika, the duo will join new arrivals Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Tala Gray, Jono Lance and Jacques Potgieter.
With 29 of the 30 available senior squad places now filled, Cheika will continue his search for another front row player to fill the remaining spot and also now focus on the recruitment of players for the five Extended Playing Squad places, following the opening today of the EPS contracting window.
Having being among a number of emerging club players invited to train with the squad for much of the 2013 season, 20-year-old Tongan-born Silatolu Latu Latu featured strongly in the Students’ Shute Shield Grand Final win over Eastwood on Saturday.
“Tolu has been impressive for his club throughout the Shute Shield season and has deserved his spot,” said Cheika. “He toured with us last month having already spent a fair bit of time getting to know what we’re about and training with us as one of a number of invited club players throughout the season.”
One of only two hookers in the squad, Latu hopes to benefit from playing and training alongside current NSW hooker Tatafu Polota Nau. “I want to challenge Taf and make him a better player and hopefully become like him,” said Tolu. “He’s someone that I’ve looked up to and tried to base my game on how he plays his. I’ll be trying to soak in and learn as much as I can from him.”
But Cheika also believes his presence will be good for Polota Nau’s game.
”I’d say Taf’s got his hands full,” he said. “He’s going to have a competitor right from day one. Talu has shown he can be a very dominant player and the idea of bringing him in is that Taf does have his hands full. Somewhere along the line we’ll bring in another hooker and Tolu will have his hands full too.”
Winger Matt Carraro, who represented the NSW on eight occasions back in 2008/9, returns to the Waratahs after impressing Cheika whilst playing for the NSW Barbarians in the second leg of their recent two-match tour of Argentina.
“Matt offers us a profile that we haven’t got in our back three. He’s a hard, straight-running, out-and-out finisher who also offers international experience and brings with him good defensive skills and also has experience at 13.”
In the forwards, Cheika has also signed Bulls’ hard-man Jacques Potgieter and Eastern Suburbs back rower Talalelei Gray.
The 27-year-old Springbok will primarily be used as a lock but offers additional depth in the back row. "In building our 2014 squad I wanted to profile one of our locks as a no-nonsense, hard and strong ball carrier and tackler, experienced and hungry to add these qualities to our squad,” explained Cheika.
"We have some excellent locks and back rows in our squad with different profiles and adding a quality recruit like Jacques to our team will definitely make for more competition within our squad, which should make us more competitive against our opponents.”
The final new addition to the pack is Tala Gray. Following the completion of his duties with French Top 14 side Biarritz, the 23-year-old former Eastern Suburbs back rower joined up with many of his new team mates last month for the NSW Barbarians’ recent tour to Argentina, making an appearance off the bench in the first match against the Pumas and starting at No. 8 in the second, before returning to action for his club Eastern Suburbs in the Shute Shield finals.
Born in Australia, Gray spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons playing Shute Shield rugby for Easts before moving to Biarritz in 2012, where he was part of the victorious Amlin Challenge Cup side. “Rugged in attack and defence, Tala is a strong ball carrier and a big worker. He also has a bit of edge which I really like in players and he is hungry to prove himself back in Australia.”
The NSW backline will be further strengthened by the arrival of internationals Nick Phipps and Kurtley Beale (both from the Rebels) and Reds’ playmaker Jono Lance.
Having committed to re-establishing the NSW province’s reputation for attacking, running rugby, Phipps is well-suited to the team’s new identity. “Nick is a good threatening, attacking player,” said Cheika.
“He’s good all round, in attack, in defence and with his kicking game; he’s a quality player and I think that he’s still got a lot of potential to fulfil. That makes for very good competition in the No. 9 position.”
Now 24, Beale returns to NSW in 2014 after two seasons in Melbourne. “Kurtley is a great reader of the game and has the exact profile that we are looking to inject into our current backline set up.
“He’s an extremely talented player and is just coming into his prime playing years. I can’t wait to see him back in the sky blue.”
Having made his Super Rugby debut for the Queensland Reds in 2011, Lance brings with a skills set and a hard edge that Cheika believes will make him a valuable addition to the squad.
“Jono brings a dual running and ball distribution game, and he is an excellent defender. He has all the qualities to fit the profile of what we are looking for. Along with that, he has an excellent character and that is a very important feature in our recruitment criteria,” said Cheika.
NSW Waratahs 2014 squad
Forwards (senior club, age)
Mitchell Chapman (Eastern Suburbs, 30)
Dave Dennis (Sydney University, 27)
Kane Douglas (Southern Districts, 24)
Tala Gray (Eastern Suburbs, 23)*
Jed Holloway (Southern Districts, 20)
Michael Hooper (Manly, 21)
Sekope Kepu (Randwick, 27)
Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University, 26)
Tolu Latu (Sydney University, 20)*
Wycliff Palu (Manly, 31)
Tatafu Polota Nau (Parramatta, 28)
Jacques Potgieter (27)*
Benn Robinson (Eastwood, 29)
Paddy Ryan (Sydney University, 25)
Will Skelton (Sydney University, 21)
Jeremy Tilse (Sydney University, 27)
Adam Ashley-Cooper (Northern Suburbs, 29)
Matt Carraro (29)*
Kurtley Beale (24)*
Peter Betham (Sydney University, 24)
Cam Crawford (Northern Suburbs, 24)
Bernard Foley (Sydney University, 24)
Israel Folau (Sydney University, 24)
Michael Hodge (Sydney University, 24)
Rob Horne (Southern Districts, 24)
Jono Lance (23)*
Brendan McKibbin (Eastern Suburbs, 28)
Nick Phipps (Sydney University, 24)
Ben Volavola (Southern Districts, 22)
*New Arrivals (former club)
Kurtley Beale (Rebels)
Matt Carraro (Montpellier, France)
Tala Gray (Biarritz, France)
Nick Phipps (Rebels)
Jacques Potgieter (Bulls)
Jono Lance (Reds)
Tolu Latu (Sydney University)
New player profiles
Date Of Birth: 06/01/1989, Mount Druitt, Sydney
Provincial Rugby Caps: 82 [NSW Waratahs 68; Rebels 14]
Super Rugby Caps: 82 [NSW Waratahs 68; Rebels 14]
Test Rugby Caps: 39
Position: Wing/outside centre
Date of Birth: 04/08/1984, Randwick, NSW, Australia
Provincial Rugby Caps: 133 (Brumbies 4; Waratahs 8; Bath 53; Montpellier 68)
Super Rugby Caps: 12 (Brumbies 4; Waratahs 8)
Position: Back row
Date of Birth: 28/2/90, Melbourne
Senior Club: Eastern Suburbs
Position: Inside centre/flyhalf
Date Of Birth: 27/06/90, Canberra
Super Rugby Caps: 15 [Queensland Reds]
Representative Honours: Australia A Schoolboys, Australia Under 20s (2010 IRB Junior World Championship), Australia Sevens (2010)
Date of Birth: 23/02/1993, Tofoa, Tonga
Senior Club: Sydney University
Representative Honours: Australian Under 20s
Date of Birth: 09/01/1989
Senior Club: Sydney University
Super Rugby Caps: 47 [Melbourne Rebels]
Test Rugby Caps: 14
Representative Honours: Australian Sevens (2009-10)
Position: Lock/back row
Date Of Birth: 24.04.1986, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Provincial Rugby Caps: 28 [Eastern Province]
Super Rugby Caps: 23 [Bulls]
Test Rugby Caps: 3 [South Africa]