Petaia not just a token inclusion: Cheika

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika isn’t putting any limits on rookie Jordan Petaia after naming the 18-year-old in his first Bledisloe camp.

Petaia became Queensland’s youngest Super Rugby debutant when he played his first Reds game this season and has impressed at every opportunity.

His strong showing playing in Cheika’s team in last Friday night’s Wallabies trial earned him a spot in the 36-man Wallabies squad to head to Cessnock.

Cheika said there were no guarantees for the youngster but the national coach wouldn’t close the door on keeping Petaia in camp.

“I'm not into the headline for him and for his own benefit,” he said.

“He understands he's earned a chance to be with the squad and get a taste of it.

“The opportunities are limitless, according to how he develops.

“I'm not going to say he's here in this point or at another point because that's really up to him.

“It's also for us to get to understand a player and certainly if he's good enough there’s no restriction on age.

“I've only just got to know him a little bit in the last 10 days so let's see how this week pans out.”

Petaia will likely run on the wing in camp this week with Dane Haylett-Petty still recovering from a knee injury.

“Dane hasn't been back running up and yet. So there's a chance for him to run for another day or two,” Cheika said.

“I think he's impressed and we'll see how he keeps going as he keeps training and playing alongside players from the other teams.”

Regardless of whether he plays in this tournament or even this season, Petaia’s inclusion is a move that will continue to add depth, Cheika said.

“One big thing about this team that we've assembled from a coaching point of view as well is we want to build some foundations for the future as well,” he said.

“I think that's something we haven't been good at over the past 10-12 years, thinking about how we can infiltrate both the mentality and the talent of players going forward so the next coach and the coach after him are in a really good spot and that our rugby public have got great teams coming through.”

Petaia is one of six uncapped Wallabies named in Cheika’s squad on Sunday, along with Tom Banks, Jack Maddocks, Jermaine Ainsley, Billy Meakes and Folau Faingaa.

Cheika said he was confident that Haylett-Petty and skipper Michael Hooper would be fit for the first Bledisloe in two weeks.

Props Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa are also working their way through niggles but have both been named in Cheika’s Cessnock cmap.

Hooper hasn’t played since the third June Test, battling a hamstring injury but Cheika said he expected him to return to action well ahead of the opener.

“I've been told he'll be back to full training on Monday so both himself and Allan Alaalatoa were the two players apart from Dane who haven't done yet,” he said.

“We'll have to  check Scotty as well now, have to see how he pulls up after the game. i'm told he'll be back training tomorrow.

Cheika will trim the squad back to 28 later this week.