Hodge grasping Wallabies chance

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Melbourne Rebels rookie Reece Hodge was a last-gasp replacement in the Wallabies camp, but he could just make the cut when Michael Cheika’s 30-man squad is announced on Friday afternoon.

Hodge was called into Wallabies camp this week after a hamstring injury to Rebels teammate Mike Harris and vowed to make the most of his chance, speaking to rugby.com.au earlier this week.

The utility back has done exactly that this week and his involvement has been duly noted.

Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper said Hodge had amazed him with his maturity and professionalism in the camp week.

“He’s been really good, stepped in, has a maturity for his age,” he said.

“I haven’t played with him ever at Manly or anything like that but he’s come (along in) leaps and bounds from when I’ve seen him play for Manly, through the Rebels this year.

“It's fantastic when guys get opportunities like that to come and grab it.”

Reece Hodge has taken an extra load in his stride this season. Photo: ARU Media/Brian HookHooper said the last-minute inclusion might have been the best thing for Hodge, giving him little time to dwell on the chance at stake.

“I think sometimes the less you think about things and the position you’re in, maybe like Reece was last week probably planning a week off, (the better it is) to come in and grab it with both hands and he’s had a great crack at it this week.

“(He’s had) a really good crack and shows some really good development in his game.”

Cheika was being a little bit more secretive about the bolters set to be named in the trimmed squad on Friday, only saying that even he was surprised about who might be heading down to Brisbane.

“The group of players we’re going to pack up for Brisbane, there’s a couple of guys that’ll be in that I genuinely probably didn’t think would’ve been beforehand,” he said.

“Probably more than a couple, but because of what they’ve done in training I think they’ve earned the right to go to the next week.”

When pressed on some potential names in that list, Cheika was keeping his cards close to his chest.

“Can’t tell you yet,” he said.

“I think there’s been a real intensity around training this week which is essential.

“Not having played Test rugby, the biggest thing I’ve learned is how intense and how fast the games are going so we’ve tried to prepare players for that as much as possible.”

As far as Cheika’s backline goes, there could be some more certainty around selections after Friday.

Karmichael Hunt is expected to be involved in the session, which would be his first with the team this week, keeping him in contention for a number 12 spot.

With Christian Lealiifano still away, with his partner yet to give birth, Cheika said he was keeping his options open in the inside backs.

There has been no pressure on Lealiifano to rush into camp, with Cheika a firm believer in putting family first.

“I’ll be genuine and I’m always like this when it comes to game weeks, I just want to keep an open mind,” he said.

“I think we knew Karmichael wouldn’t be training and Christian would be away.

“We didn't know how long, obviously, no one knows how long Christian’s going to be away but I think it’s for a very valid reason at the end of the day.”