Field of dreams: Cusack goes from fan to fetcher in famous derby

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Like a number of his Canberra-raised teammates, Tom Cusack used to sit high in the stands at GIO Stadium and soak up every moment of the Brumbies-Waratahs derbies.

"Adam Ashley-Cooper scoring in the corner and Clyde Rathbone, I remember watching it all as a junior,” Cusack said. 

"These are the derbies that you love to watch and now I am privileged enough to be a part of. That’s what you love about footy. 

"You grow up idolising stars of the game and idolising the sport and then you are actually a part of it, and you get to immerse yourself in a whole new experience.”

Cusack, a rangy flanker who cut his teeth in the Australian sevens team, got a very brief taste of the Waratahs-Brumbies derby last year when he came off the bench for six minutes in Canberra.

But on Friday night he’ll still be immersed in a whole new experience, when Cusack runs out with the famous no.7 on his back against the Waratahs at home.

Lining up opposite him will be Michael Hooper, and just a bit further out will be another familiar face from the old days: Ashley-Cooper.

Going head-to-head with Hooper, the Waratahs and Wallabies captain, will be one of the biggest nights of Cusack’s career.

It’s easy to forget Hooper, too, is an old Brumbies man, having played 31 games for the Canberra side in his three seasons in the nation’s capital - from 2010.

Jake White’s preference for a big no.7 ended up being the Waratahs’ gain, although Hooper’s departure was felt so much White quickly went and signed David Pocock from the Force.

Cusack remembers Hooper’s days as Brumby. 

"I was the national talent squad back then, the under 18s, and he was just about to head up to Sydney,” Cusack said. 

"I think I did one or two sessions with him. He is a fantastic player, as is well known, and he is one of those individuals who won’t stop running and won’t stop putting in for the team. 

"To nullify him will be a big effort come game day but they gave a lot of other threats throughout the side.”

Much like the early days of the Brumbies, the side to play the Waratahs will have a very strong homegrown flavour, with Cusack one of seven Canberra boys in the 23-man squad.

Les Leuluaialii-Makin, Cusack and Joe Powell will start, along with Jordan Jackson-Hope, Ryan Lonergan and probable debutants Tom Ross and Mack Hansen on the bench.

"That’s the excitement of it. It gives the youth of Canberra the actual excitement and  that they will be able to perform and get the for the opportunity in Canberra and for the Brumbies,” Cusack said. 

"The likes of Mack Hansen and Tommy Ross, they’ve been in phenomenal form and have been killing it all pre-season. Jordan Jackson-Hope and Ryan Lonergan on the pine as well, they’ve been phenomenal in the Runners’ games. And Lessy gets his first opportunity to start.”

Brumbies skipper Christian Lealiifano was similarly excited for the local lads.

"It’s a big moment for them and their families, They work really, really hard and they say it a lot, they dream of being in these moments,” Lealiifano said. 

"They get to represent the team they grew up admiring and watching."

The Brumbies host the Waratahs at GIO Stadium on Friday, 7.40pm (AEDT). Live on FoxSports and radio.