The Waratahs went from champions to underperformers in just three seasons.
This year, they have plenty to prove as they look for redemption.
IN: Harry Johnson-Holmes, Shambeckler Vui, Cody Walker, Nick Palmer, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Kelly Meafua, Will Miller, Lachlan Swinton, Kurtley Beale, Lalakai Foketi, Alex Newsome
OUT: Dave Lolohea, Sam Needs, Angus Ta’avao, Dave McDuling, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, Senio Toleafoa, Matt Lucas, Andrew Deegan, Rob Horne, Dave Horwitz, Reece Robinson, Harry Jones
Player they’ll miss most: Rob Horne
The Waratahs waved goodbye to plenty of experience in 2017, but Horne’s absence may be the one most keenly felt. They have recruited well in the centre space, but Horne was arguably the most reliable defensive back at NSW in recent times. Though he was never flashy, and often polarising in public opinion, he could be counted on and his leadership on and off the field will take some replacing.
Boom recruit: Kurtley Beale
He’s only been gone a season, but Beale’s absence was a gaping one for the Waratahs in 2017. The dynamic centre comes back to NSW, after returning to Australia last August, with a more rounded view of rugby and a goal of more balance in his rugby. Beale’s presence takes the pressure of Bernard Foley as chief playmaker as well, something the Waratahs will benefit from hufely.
MVP: Michael Hooper
You could probably pencil this one in every single year, but whether the Waratahs are strugglign or thriving, Hooper is there setting the bar for improvement. The 26-year-old will hit 100 Super Rugby caps this year and though he says he’s looking to adjust his game, he shows few signs of tiring out. The Waratahs have barely had to consider life without their leaders in the years he’s been at the club, such is his durability, and they would certainly be rudderless without him. Expect another big year from Hooper.
Rising star: Lalakai Foketi
Foketi has been a bolter of the 2017 preseason, leapfrogging Curtis Rona to be at the top of the pecking order for the NSW 13 spot. The 23-year-old has been around the world and back to be part of the Waratahs setup, spending time in France and in New Zealand’s NPC, before moving to Sydney. Impressed in preseason trials and will be looking to be a force defensively, primarily, a trait the Waratahs desperately need.
Most to prove: Tolu Latu
Tolu Latu came into the 2017 season as the incumbent starting Wallabies hooker. That momentum carried through the start of the year, but injuries and then form crippled his progress. He battled with more niggles through cub rugby and the NRC and then had a preseason setback. Now he finds himself third-choice hooker at the Waratahs, with a long mountain to climb to get back into the 23.
What the coach says:
"We're determined to go from the bottom of the pack to the top.
"That would be a pass mark for us.
"That's a hell of a challenge, we know that, but we're determined to, firstly, be at our best and through those performances we'll get what we deserve." - Daryl Gibson
Aussie Conference prediction: 2nd
They don’t have the superstar lineup of years gone by, though they still have the Wallabies spine in their backline and that will go a long way. Their biggest question mark is over their forward pack, who will need to be firing for their superstar backline to be able to finish the job. If their youngsters can make the jump, they could surprise a few people and put themselves well and truly in finals contention.