Small, inexperienced, - Waratahs backrower Ned Hanigan isn’t worried what outsiders think of a new-look NSW pack in 2018.
NSW farewelled experienced duo Dean Mumm and Will Skelton at the end of last season, and they’ll be missing veteran tighthead Sekope Kepu in the first two rounds of 2018, taking a big chunk of recognition out of their team.
That’s not to say they are all rookies - Wallabies lock Rob Simmons joined the club this season and their skipper Michael Hooper has nearly 100 Super Rugby caps as well - but this isn’t the Waratahs makeup of old.
Asked how he felt about the perception of the forward pack in 2018, one that is markedly less intimidating than some of its predecessors, Hanigan questioned the tag.
“(Michael) Hooper over there - he's pretty experienced, he's going to be leading us around, Rob Simmons I think he's played over 100 caps for the Reds, so we've got guys there that are plenty experienced enough,’ he said.
“I think as young guys coming through, listening to them, especially in times of a game where it's pretty critical, the defensive lineout, five metres our in the 78th minute, we're up by two, you look to those guys.
“I think the new guys bring that energy and that new excitement and I think there's going to be new players running around there on Saturday night, which, they've worked hard for and they’re going to grab the opportunity ”
A sense of mongrel is something the 2014 champion Waratahs had and that’s what coach Daryl Gibson wants to see from his team this year, recruiting for grunt rather than star power across the forwards, as they look to unleash a star-studded backline..
“What we've tried to forge is a hard working forward pack that's the servants of the back,” he said.
“They'll go and retrieve the balls so the backs can play with it. We've certainly built that character into our forward pack and it's something we want to see.”
There’s no obvious ‘enforcer’ type in the Waratahs’ front eight this year, but Hanigan said they needed to find a mix between the abrasive approach and trying to use an improved fitness base to run the Stormers ragged on Sunday.
“It'll warm the shoulders up for a season ahead but looking forward to it and obviously it's important that contact zone,” he said.
“You'd be silly to go into a game and think you're going to run over the top of them or run high. They're a good side at holding you up in attack, so I suppose we've got Kurtley (beale coming back who's good with his kicking game and a few things like that.
“It'll all be a bit interesting. We're a fit, speedy side that's looking forward to the contest.”
The Waratahs host the Stormers at Allianz Stadium on Saturday February 24, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT. Buy tickets here.