Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu is finally back in the frame to return to the fold against the Sharks this weekend and according to teammate Jed Holloway, he won't be the same player he was two months ago.
He'll be better.
Latu hasn’t played Super Rugby since a round two clash with the Sunwolves, handed a six-week suspension for foul play that effectively became eight weeks due to bye rounds but the hooker will finally be available this weekend.
Though he hasn’t been able to play, Latu has been training fully with the team, bar a short trip to visit family.
In that time, he has managed to drop weight and focus on developing his fitness.
Fitness has been a struggle for Latu over his career and it was only last season that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was overlooking him for selection because of his physical shape.
Holloway said Latu was looking fitter than ever after his sideline stint.
“I think he's at the best weight he's been at since I've played with him and his skin folds are at the best as well,” he said.
“Whether he's picked or not, I'm sure Tolu will be ready to go - he's actually looking the best I've seen him look.”
While defence coach Steve Tandy said selection decisions wouldn’t be discussed until later on Monday, Latu would be a handy addition to the side.
Latu would have to displace one of regular starter Damien Fitzpatrick or rookie rake Andrew Tuala to earn his spot.
“He obviously brings a physical edge, he's good over the ball, strong in the set piece and the scrums and a good ball carrier,” Tandy said.
“There's loads of attributes that Tolu can add to the group which would be exciting.”
That extra physicality, balanced with the need for strict discipline, would be timely for the Waratahs as they prepare for a run of three matches against South African outfits.
NSW takes on the Sharks this weekend before a two-week tour to South Africa to take on the Bulls and the Lions.
It’s a block that could shore up their status as finals contenders or make their road to the final eight that little bit more difficult.
That they were able to match it physically with the abrasive Rebels last Saturday gives Holloway confidence they could do the same this weekend.
“The Rebels are South African-coached by Dave (Wessels) so they're all cut from the same cloth. It was great preparation for the week ahead,” he said.
“We've got the Sharks this week and then two weeks up in Pretoria and Joburg.
“It's definitely a test that's coming but it's one we're not going to shy away from.
“I'm sure the physicality going to be up at training over the next couple of weeks but we're ready for it.”
The Sharks lost to the Reds at home for the first time in 15 years last weekend and pointedly tried to target the Queensland scrum by turning down points deep in attack.
Though it didn't work out for the Sharks as they had planned, Tandy said NSW needed to ensure they didn’t give them that opportunity on Saturday.
“The Sharks, they play direct in the way they want to play, the expectation is probably going to be a lot more mauls to defend so I think discipline you have to be really spot on and I think it's really focusing on not giving cheap penalties away,” he said.
“You look at the likes of the Sharks, they turn down the three so they are kicking to the corner, they want to keep going.
“It's really important we have discipline because ultimately you know these are huge men going to come at you and as much as you trust your defensive system, you don't want to be defending for large periods in the wrong end of the field.”
The Waratahs take on the Sharks on Saturday April 27 at Bankwest Stadium, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.