‘Good opportunity to come home’: Raiwalui energised by Waratahs rebuild mission

Fri, Jun 28, 2024, 1:36 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
New Waratahs Director of Rugby Simon Raiwalui is confident of a turnaround at the club. Photo: Getty Images
New Waratahs Director of Rugby Simon Raiwalui is confident of a turnaround at the club. Photo: Getty Images

New NSW Waratahs Director of Rugby Simon Raiwalui believes the club is primed for success as they rebuild from a tough season.

Raiwalui was unveiled on Friday as the first major piece of the Waratahs' overhaul on a three-year deal, with the newly created position replacing the General Manager of Rugby role.

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The former Wallabies assistant is one of the sharpest Rugby minds in the world and comes off guiding Fiji to their 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

“It was a quick decision. It came up and I got asked by (RA Head of High-Performance Peter Horne) if I was interested and straight away it tickled my fancy straight away,” he told reporters.

“I grew up in Sydney and was born in the Southern Districts and played Manly colts and juniors through the first grade before going overseas so it’s a good opportunity to come home.

“It was the right time and it’s all about timing in your career and this came at the right time with the direction World Rugby, myself and the Waratahs want to go.”

Raiwalui doesn't officially begin until September but it's already hands-on in the search for a new head coach after Darren Coleman's departure.

Simon Raiwalui will step down as Fiji coach. Photo: Getty Images
Raiwalui inspired Fiji to the RWC 23 quarter-finals and a drought-breaking win over the Wallabies

Dan McKellar and Scott Wisemantel are amongst the names thrown out as potential candidates, with former coach Michael Chieka officially off the market after his signing with Leicester.

“I’ve been in my new role two days I’ve already been in a meeting around coaching options and we’ve got some very good options in place to find the best candidate and support staff around them,” Raiwalui said.

“…We’re looking for a world-class team to take the team forward and we’ll update pretty quickly with what our options are.”

“We know there’s a lot of player movement at the moment and we know there’s a lot of discussions in the marketplace so for us, it’s just trying to get that done as quickly as possible but also doing a thorough job with it,” CEO Paul Doorn added.

“We’ve got one piece of the puzzle in Simon and it’ll cascade down from there…I’ve already been contacting certain players, staff, just giving them a level of comfort.

“I do get the sense of urgency at the moment.”

Raiwalui serves as Wallabies forwards coach from 2018-2020

Raiwalui senses the potential growth in the side, who were restricted to just two wins in 2024.

It comes off the back of a horrific injury list, with the former Fijian international confident the pieces are there for a sudden turnaround.

“I genuinely wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think that the Waratahs are a success-in-waiting," he explained. “I do think they have the bones, they have the pillars and people in place to have success.

“There’s obviously things that we need to work on. We need to get the best staff in place, whether it be playing, whether it be off-field. We need to get the best players through the juniors, women, men; getting all our ducks in a row, so that we’ve got success on the field.

“…This is a new year and a new squad and staff and we’re going to try to right to wrongs of last year and make the rights they got even better. We have a great opportunity this year to grow and growth be the big word for this  so we’re going to get those good pillars in place but strengthen the spine of the squad for future success.”

Recruitment is a key focus with a number of former Rebels searching for new homes, most notably Taniela Tupou.

Raiwalui has worked with Tupou at the national level when he was the Wallabies forwards coach and is ready to 'show love' to the powerful prop.

"It would be very nice, it would be very nice [to sign Tupou]," he admits.

"Taniela's a great young man and he needs a home where someone can show him some love. And if he is available, we'll chat to him."

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