Wycliff Palu and Berrick Barnes are certain starters for NSW against the Cheetahs on Saturday night, as the Waratahs attempt to get their Super Rugby season back on track.
After an impressive start to the year the Tahs lost their way two weeks ago in a disappointing loss to the Crusaders in Nelson.
A bye has given them an extra week to lick their wounds, and while NSW should have no problem beating the Cheetahs at the SFS, they’re after more than just a victory.
The Waratahs are determined to return to the clinical play which saw them destroy Melbourne and Queensland in the opening two rounds, and prove their capitulation against the Crusaders was a mere blip on the radar and not the start of a problem.
The issues NSW faced at the set piece against the Crusaders should be helped by the return of the inspirational Palu from a hamstring injury.
Barnes will slot back into the No.10 jersey and run the attack, following time off with concussion.
Palu has barely played a Super Rugby match for the past year, after knee ligament damage ruined his 2010 and his troublesome hamstring has kept him out since this year’s trials.
Centre Tom Carter said the giant No.8 will give the Waratahs an edge.
“It’s pretty exciting isn’t it. Cliffy Palu is a great guy to have back in the team. He’s been training really hard,” said Carter.
“He’s an incredible ball carrier and a great defender so whenever he’s been fit he does a lot of damage for us.
“It’s just such a big boost for us, he’s worked so hard to get back. Eleven months in rehab, he’s shown the way, no one has seen him work so hard so we’re pretty excited to have him back.”
Tatafu Polota-Nau (knee) and captain Phil Waugh (bicep) are the two players in major doubt for the Waratahs on Friday night, and a decision will be made on Tuesday whether they should be rested for a further week.
In a more significant blow, centre Rob Horne has been ruled out for six weeks with a continuation of his elbow problem. Ryan Cross, Lachie Turner and Drew Mitchell are in contention to fill his No.13 jumper.
Coach Chris Hickey said he doesn’t have any reservations about starting Palu, despite hamstring problems being tedious injuries to shake.
“No I don’t think so, whether you’re starting or coming off the bench you’ve still got to play,” he said.
“I think the advantage of starting as a player is … there’s a definitive time when you know you’re going to be ready to play.
“We’re confident to start with Cliffy, then we’ll monitor his progress through the game.”
Carter said complacency won’t be a risk for the Tahs against the Cheetahs, who struggle on the road.
“We’re pretty well aware of where we stand,” he said.
“We’ve shown we can play positive footy and there’s a really strong belief that’s the way we’re going to play all year.
“We need to put the Crusaders game behind us, that’s the challenge.”