Kurtley Beale says the athleticism of rookie flyer Mark Nawaqanitawase reminds him of Israel Folau and that the enthusiasm “oozing” out of the Waratahs’ generation next will lift the entire NSW squad in 2020.
Beale is set to make his return to action when the Waratahs take on Queensland in Dalby on Friday night, and will kick off his season by replacing Nawaqanitawase at fullback in a team also welcoming back Michael Hooper, Jack Dempsey and new captain Rob Simmons. Jack Maddocks will also make his NSW debut from the bench.
Coach Rob Penney has elected to give Will Harrison and Mack Mason another week to prove their credentials at no.10, and though expressing confidence in the young pair, he stopped short of saying one of them would start against the Crusaders in round one in Nelson.
Harrison will start on Friday and though Beale remains the safety-net option, the Wallabies star said he would begin the season at fullback.
Ahead of his first game with any formal leadership role, Beale was buzzing about the chance to play alongside the young crop of Waratahs players who made a big impression in the Tahs’ opening trial win over the Highlanders in Sydney last week.
Nawaqanitawase was a standout at fullback, and Carlo Tizzano, Harrison, Angus Bell and Joey Walton all stepped up seamlessly and with confidence.
Beale was spotted giving Nawaqanitawase plenty of advice during breaks in play, and he said the 19-year-old was a special talent.
Asked if Nawaqanitawase reminded himself of himself at 19, Beale said: "He reminds me of Izzy, a bit, to be fair.”
"He has the height and he has got the jump,” Beale continued.
"He has definitely got a bit of flair about him. It is going to be exciting working with him throughout the year, to help him reach his full potential.”
Beale said the 'excitement' of a large influx of Junior Wallabies in the Waratahs system had been infectious.
"When you have got players who are keen to make the most of their first opportunity, that brings so much to the squad and so much threat,” he said.
"As a back it’s really exciting to see this next generation of players coming through with all that enthusiasm because it is only going to rub off on the team in a positive way.
"As one of the senior guys, it’s great to see the new blood coming through who are oozing excitement and enthusiasm. When there is a change, those are the two things you probably look for and we have got that in spades, in the forwards and the backs.
"I am keen to mix it with them and no doubt they’ll keep me on my toes and the rest of the senior guys, and I am sure the coaching staff as well.”
Hooper and Simmons were equally impressed with the youngsters in the 40-21 win at Leichhardt Oval, and though careful of how to describe the group, believe they’re “ready to go”.
“That little glimpse we got on Friday’s match against the Highlanders was very impressive,” Hooper said.
"Some of that hard work I heard about, and have been a part of in the last couple of weeks, showed in the last couple of games.
"The hunger in some of these … I am already trying to not use the word young, because young gives us an excuse. These guys are ready to go.
"Maybe say inexperienced or something like that because they don’t have many Super caps or games at an open level, but the enthusiasm and the hunger to play a trial, I could sense on the sideline and I am looking this week to getting out on the park.
"I want to be a part of that. I want to get in there."
Where Beale fits into the Waratahs backline across the 2020 season remains to be seen but the 30-year-old says he’s comfortable wherever he is deployed.
"I have had a chat with Rob and there is a possible chance to play ten throughout the year, but mainly starting off as 15,” he said.
"And I think just being ready if the call to ten is where I need to be, I will be ready and open to that and up for the challenge. I have been there before and am confident about what needs to be done in that position.
"Seeing from what has been happening at training over the last three weeks, and my time so far, of this next generation of players, certainly Will Harrison and Mack (Mason) are doing a great job of guiding the team there.
"With Jake Gordon at the base of the ruck, and Mitch Short … it is a matter of making sure we are all on the same page on the field out there and executing what we need to do.”
Penney said Mason and Harrison had another chance to earn themselves Super Rugby spots with their performances against Queensland.
'We have another game this week and every fixture is another depth of knowledge we have,” Penney said.
"We will see what happens this week, both have another opportunity again. After last week’s performance, I was really positive about the praise I gave them last game and that was certainly warranted given the review we have had. They have got their foot in the door so it’s about busting the door down and making it their own.”
Waratahs team v Queensland
1. Tom Robertson
2. Robbie Abel
3. Harry Johnson-Holmes
4. Tom Staniforth
5. Rob Simmons (c)
6. Jack Dempsey
7. Michael Hooper
8. Jed Holloway
9. Jake Gordon
10. Will Harrison
11. Alex Newsome
12. Karmichael Hunt
13. Lalakai Foketi
14. Mark Nawaqanitawase
15. Kurtley Beale
Res: Damien Fitzpatrick, Rory O'Connor, Tetera Faulkner, Pat Tafa, Lachlan Swinton, Charlie Gamble, Mitch Short, Mack Mason, Angus Bell, Ryan McAuley, Jack Maddocks, Joey Walton, Cam Clark.
The Waratahs take on Queensland in a trial at Dalby Leagues Club, Friday January 24, kickoff at 7.30 (local time), 8.30pm AEDT. Live stream on RUGBY.com.au and Reds.Rugby.