The Israel Folau replacement theory
SPOTLIGHT: Jordan Petaia could be the answer as the Wallabies search for a fullback with Tim Horan urging the Queensland Reds to unleash him in the No.15 jersey this Super Rugby AU season.
Injuries have robbed centre Petaia consistent game time for the Reds since his debut in 2018 but he’s still shown glimpses of magic in eight Test appearances for Australia.
Petaia shapes as a key weapon for Dave Rennie in the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup but two-time World Cup winner and former centre Horan thinks the 20-year-old might be most dangerous from the back.
Rennie turned to Tom Banks, Dayne Haylett-Petty and the versatile Reece Hodge during Tests last year, while NSW fullback Jack Maddocks remains an option and emerging Reds talent Jock Campbell impressed when handed the keys by Brad Thorn.
Now playing in France, Kurtley Beale was also used at fullback under former coach Michael Cheika and is hopeful of featuring for the Wallabies in 2023, when he will be 34.
But nobody has taken ownership of the position since Israel Folau’s departure from rugby two years ago and Horan feels Petaia is worth the punt.
“I’d love to see Jordan Petaia play 15 [for the Reds] and they might use him there for a couple of matches I hope,” Horan said before Friday’s Super Rugby AU season openers on Friday.
“There’s two positions going into the World Cup where we don’t have a lot of depth; one’s 15 and the other one is 10.
“We need to look at Jordan; we have some good centres, plenty of wingers but not a lot of fullbacks going around.
“Haylett-Petty and Banks had a chance last year and nobody grabbed it
“Put him at No.13 for a couple of games, let him settle in, but I’d love to see him have a crack at 15 to see what he’s like with a bit more space.”
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It would mean shifting Campbell, despite the 25-year-old’s encouraging stint at fullback last season, but would allow Hamish Stewart and fellow Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami to grow a midfield partnership that blossomed in 2020.
“I thought Jock was good but Jordan he’s got the potential to play 100 Tests if injury free,” Horan said.
“Playing at 15, yes he’d have to improve on his kicking game, but of the eight [Super Rugby] games he plays I’d like to see him in two or three at fullback.”
Horan also hopes Waratahs playmaker Will Harrison and Brumbies’ No.10 Noah Lolesio pile pressure on Reds flyhalf James O’Connor, who will be 33 when the World Cup rolls around.
“James maybe has one more season after this … this year and next year we need to make sure we can find [a long-term No.10],” Horan said.
“Will Harrison and Noah Lolesio really have to come on leaps and bounds this year to take us through to that next World Cup.”