The Wallabies’ World Cup hooking dilemma has been compounded with news that Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese won’t be back in Super Rugby for at least another month.
Uelese suffered an ACL injury in June last year, just a day before the Wallabies went into their June Series camp, sidelining him for the rest of 2018.
The 22-year-old had an early setback in his recovery after suffering an infection in his initial surgery but since then he had been progressing steadily.
Speaking to RUGBY.com.au in January, Uelese felt he was on track for a round one return but that has since blown out to as late as round eight.
“Going really well, I'm tracking really well for round one,” he said.
“Had a couple of setbacks post my first op but I think the strength and conditioning staff and the physios have done a really good job to get it back up to scratch and fingers crossed, best case scenario round one.”
The Rebels aren’t expecting to see Uelese back on the field until at least round six and possibly even round eight against the Sunwolves, leaving the Wallabies without the chance to see two of their Test prospects for almost half of the Super Rugby season.
Uelese’s absence adds to the loss of his northern rival Latu who was on Tuesday suspended for six weeks, not set to return until round 10.
The Wallabies’ no. 2 spot is one of the more contentious ones heading into a World Cup year with no regular starter cementing their claims in 2018.
Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Folau Faingaa and Tatafu Polota-Nau all started for the Wallabies at various times last year.
If Polota-Nau features for the Wallabies in the World Cup, the Leicester hooker would likely be the only overseas-based player with Matt Toomua returning home and no other eligible offshore players likely to be considered.
Uelese made his Wallabies debut in 2017 after playing jut 28 minutes of Super Rugby for the Rebels and played in two Rugby Championship Tests that year before travelling with the Spring Tour squad.
He played eight games for the Rebels last year before his injury, fighting it out for a starting spot with Anaru Rangi.
The Rebels will welcome back injured duo Reece Hodge and Adam Coleman into the 23 for Friday night's clash with the Highlanders, with the pair named on the bench for the match.
Hodge has missed four months with an ankle injury he suffered in Wallabies training and the utility said he was itching to get back into the fold.
It's just Hodge's second Super Rugby match off the bench in four seasons with the Rebels after another bench spot in 2016 against the Highlanders.
"I guess I'm used to watching over the past few months and I'm sick of it and I want to play now," he said.
"Just looking forward to Friday night and I guess if there's things I've seen on the bench in the first part of the game that I can try and add to the squad in the half-time huddle or if I get a chance to come on, then that's a bonus to the team and it'll be something I'll be looking to do."
The Rebels face off against the Highlanders on Friday March 1, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.