2018 biggest stories 15-11: Thrilling June Series, Petaia's rise, Cheika stays on

by staff

As 2018 comes to an end, is looking back at some of the biggest stories of the year.

From the on-field triumphs to the moments that had people talking off the rugby pitch, rugby had some major ups and downs in 2018.

Today, we're looking at some of the biggest storylines from the Wallabies realm.

15. Petaia's meteoric rise sparks excitement

Though he fell agonisingly short of a Wallabies debut on this year's Spring Tour, the rise of teenager Jordan Petaia has been one of the more remarkable of this year.

Petaia became the youngest Queensland Super Rugby debutant when he was named to take on the Brumbies in April of this year just a fortnight after his premier grade debut.

The 18-year-old embedded himself in the Reds team, stepping into no. 13 after an injury to Samu Kerevi, and pushed himself into the Wallabies frame towards the end of the year.

Only a last-minute hamstring twinge stopped him from being able to make his national debut in Italy last month, a development that left him "shattered".

Petaia is expected to have plenty more chances to make his Test debut, though, after signing a new deal to keep him in rugby through to 2022 and taking out the NRC player of the year.

14. Beale, Ashley-Cooper suspensions add to difficult year

One of the unfortunate side notes of the Wallabies season came in the final week of the season as the Wallabies prepared to take on Eddie Jones's England.

When coach Michael Cheika named his team to face England, Kurtley Beale was a noticeable absentee, an omission explained away due to his form.

However, news emerged on the eve of the match that Beale and returned veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper had been stood down for the clash after inviting guests back to their hotel room on the night after the Wallabies' Test loss to Wales.

Though the guests were believed to be Ashley-Cooper's sister-in-law and a friend, the team's leadership group deemed it was a breach of team rules.

Beale's absence was all the more significant in the Test where his teammates would don the Wallabies Indigenous jersey for just the second time in history and the first time overseas.

Though the crime might have been minor, and one that the Wallabies were happy to keep internal until it leaked, it was a story that the team didn't really need in an already tough year.

13. Wallabies and Ireland deliver cracking June Series

The Wallabies' year started off with an incredible series against Ireland, though the optimism from those three matches was clearly eroded as the season went on.

Australia went just one play short of clinching the series in Sydney after a bruising three-match series.

Over the three matches, the sides couldn't be split on aggregate and each was decided by single digits.

Prop Taniela Tupou was one of the breakout stars of the series, competing against a host of Lions forwards and their physicality was the platform upon which the entire series was set.

A win in Brisbane was the only defeat Ireland suffered in 2018, a team that went on to play in one of the greatest Test matches in history against the All Blacks in Dublin.

Those three Tests weren't the only high points the Wallabies delivered this season.

A miraculous half-time turnaround in Salta is still one of the more unbelievable moments in Australian rugby history, showing glimpses of what the side could do, as did a gritty win over South Africa in Brisbane.

However, after June, those positive notes were simply too far apart, with all eyes on a Johannesburg Rugby Championship opener in 2019.

12. Long-term deals becoming the norm

It had been 10 years since Rugby Australia had handed out a contract that spanned for than three years but in 2018, those abounded.

With Northern Hemisphere and Japanese threats only growing larger, the Wallabies moved to lock in the players that will be the core of their next era for as long as possible.

First was skipper Michael Hooper, who inked a five-year deal taking him through to 2023, a call he said was an easy one.

His was the first deal of that kind of length since Lote Tuqiri signed a five-year deal back in 2007, though it was terminated midway through.

Prop Allan Alaalatoa followed, with a four-year extension for the 24-year-old, who has become one of the key front rowers in Australian rugby.

Rookie Petaia also inked a four-year deal, while star back Israel Folau is all but expected to do the same after confirming his intentions in October.

Flyhalf Bernard Foley bucked the trend with just a one-year contract for 2019, with a Japanese jaunt possibly on the horizon beyond that.

A host of big names will come off-contract in 2019 and whether rugby fans see more long-term contracts remain to be seen.

11. Cheika stays on as Wallabies coach, Johnson becomes director

Michael Cheika's future became one of the big talking points of the season as the Wallabies delivered inconsistent performances.

Questions over his future began to be publicly asked in August after another Bledisloe Series loss and though Rugby Australia endorsed him at every opportunity, the conversation only really ended a fortnight ago.

That narrative ended with the confirmation that Rugby Australia would keep him on as coach and appoint Scotland's Scott Johnson in a director of rugby role for the next three years.

It is still not entirely clear what the final Wallabies setup will look like in 2019 but World Cup preparations will begin in just weeks with a national camp in Sydney kicking off in mid-January.

Cheika's tenure was just one part of the announcement on December 10, with a new agreement between the four Super Rugby clubs and the national set up to work together.

In the first formal agreement of that kind, things like player load management will be discussed beyond state boundaries.

It is a critical move after a dispute between the Wallabies and Brumbies this year over a late request to rest David Pocock, Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa for the final Super Rugby match before the June Series.