Best XV in 2018: NSW Waratahs

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Super Rugby season is just around the corner, and there are plenty of changes in the 2018 landscape. is looking at each Australian teams' best XV one by one.

We've done the Rebels, now let's take a look at the Waratahs.

Who will be first-picked for NSW in 2018? 

1.Tom Robertson

Robertson will face stiff competition for his starting spot in 2018, with the Waratahs' young props pushing hard, but you'd think Robertson would get the nod, after starting every 2017 match. His second Super Rugby year didn't quite match the whiriwind heights of his first, but the 23-year-old will all but certainly have a chance to show his improvement come round one.

2. Tolu Latu

Tolu Latu has been the only rwalt pilfering threat for the Waratahs. Photo: Getty ImagesLatu may just scrape into the starting hooker spot in round one. The capped Wallabies hooker had a year to forget in 2017, struggling with fitness and form, ultimately dropping out of Test contention and also being stood down for a Super Rugby game. He has had some battles with injuries during the preseason but he seems likely to get the nod for redemption. Damien Fitzpatrick will be hot on his heels, a highly-regarded option in his own right.

3. Shambeckler Vui

Sekope Kepu will miss the first two rounds of the the 2018 season due to suspension, after being red-carded in the Wallabies' final match of 2018, but when he returns he will be a walk-up starter. The Waratahs scrum looks a whole lot more intimidating with Kepu in the mix but his absence opens the door for a host of youngsters to push their credentials. Former Force prop Shambeckler Vui might just be at the head of that list, showing plenty of talent in his rookie professional years. Harry Johnson-Holmes would be another name to throw in the ring as well.

4. Rob Simmons

Simmons is all but guaranteed a start come round one, in what is one of the lighter lock departments in Super Rugby. The 82-Test second rower had a rollercoaster 2017, let go by the Reds and overlooked by Michael Cheika in the Wallabies' June Series. Simmons responded well to those difficult times, though, opting to stay in Australia and making the most of a second chance in Wallabies camp, working his way back to a regular spot by the end of the year. His experience will be critical for the Waratahs, as he looks to prove he has more to give in Australian rugby.

5. Ned Hanigan

NSW is sweating on a trial injury to Hanigan, but if he pulls up from that, the 22-year-old will be teaming up with Simmons in the second row. Though he's preferred as a six by the Wallabies, and that's where the youngster would prefer to play, the Waratahs' lack of lock depth will push Hanigan into the tight five. This will be an important year for Hanigan, who has bulked up in the offseason, as he looks to consolidate a breakout year that propelled him into the Test lineup. A knee injury suffered in the final minutes of Friday's Queenstown trial appears to be the only barrier to Hanigan starting on February 24.

6. Brad Wilkin

This one starts with a caveat. Jack Dempsey will almost certainly be the Waratahs' first-choice six when he returns from a hamstring injury in round nine, but don't be surprised if Wilkin has the first crack in Sydney. Wilkin has had a luckless start to his Super Rugby life, with back-to-back knee reconstructions, the latest suffered in a midweek training session in 2017. Before those injuries, he was considered one of the most promising young talents, and he is still rated highly internally. With Hanigan in the second row and Dempsey out of action for the start of the year, Wilkin may have a chance to finally show his wares.

7. Michael Hooper

The most straightforward selection on the field would be Hooper's. Has carried the Waratahs on his own at times in the past two seasons, and shouldered the captaincy responsibliity as well. A tireless worker, Hooper still shapes as their most important player and will be first picked each week.

8. Michael Wells

Michael Wells says the Waratahs can't wear the underdog tag on Sunday. Photo: WalmsleyThe battle between Wells and Jed Holloway will be an intriguing one this year. Wells stepped up when Holloway was injured last year and started the last five games of the year. He seems likely to have first crack at the back of the scrum, having proven his reliability. Former Australia U20s captain Maclean Jones could also be a a contender here.

9.  Nick Phipps

This time last year, Nick Phipps was being overtaken by Jake Gordon as first-choice nine in NSW. Injuries and inconsistency plagued him early in 2017 but he worked his way back towards the end of the season to more consistent form. Gordon will be biting at his heels again come round one, but Phipps would be in front at this stage.

10. Bernard Foley

Similarly to Hooper, it's almost impossible to imagine a Waratahs game where Foley wouldn't be first-choice flyhalf. He has a talented understudy in Mack Mason, coming through the ranks, but Foley is still clearly in front. If he's fit, he plays.

11. Alex Newsome

Newsome was forced to look for a new Super Rugby home in 2018 after the axing of the Force, and the Waratahs are chuffed to have him. The 23-year-old has impressed all the right people in preseason, drawing comparisons with Adam Ashley-Cooper, and was ultra-consistent in his debut Super Rugby year in Perth. Andrew Kellaway would also be an option for a wing spot.

12. Kurtley Beale

Beale will play his first Super Rugby match in nearly two years on February 23, after returning to Sydney. He reminded fans, teammates and coaches alike how important he is to Australia's success in his super Wallabies return and Waratahs fans will be hoping for more of the same. 

13. Curtis Rona

Curtis Rona is focused on making an impression with the Waratahs. Photo: Getty ImagesRona played on the wing in Queenstown, but he is in NSW to fill the 13 spot. In just his second season back in rugby, he has had to move across the country twice, committed to trying for a Rugby World Cup spot. That commitment has gained him respect at his new club, who were as surprised as many outsiders that he opted to stick with rugby rather than return to NRL or head overseas. Hasn't put a foot wrong since arriving in Sydney and will be first in line for this jersey come February 24.

14. Taqele Naiyaravoro

Wing is another of the more open spots in the Waratahs' line up, with few specialists in the squad. Naiyaravoro has dropped close to 10 kgs in the preseason and might just be given a reward for his efforts. Cam Clark is another in the mix, still working his way back from shoulder surgery. Gibson has tried Bryce Hegarty on the wing before as well, and that option could yet be revived with Hegarty sitting behind Israel Folau and Bernard Foley in 10 and 15, along with the option of Kellaway.

15. Israel Folau

One of the easiest picks for Daryl Gibson each week is putting Israel Folau at fullback. Folau took a sabbatical over the Wallabies' Spring Tour, but he certainly didn't ease off the training. He is in as good a shape as ever and there's no doubt he'll be in this spot come round one.

The Waratahs open their Super Rugby campaign on Saturday February 24, against the Stormers, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT. Buy tickets here.