A fresh season means fresh faces and fresh opportunity.
Particularly in Super Rugby AU this year as the game launches a bold new era in conjunction with Nine and Stan Sport.
So we asked former Wallaby Morgan Turinui to identify the breakout stars and players to watch in the 2021 season, which kicks off with a Friday night double header on February 19.
Turinui is part of the Nine/Stan commentary crew and is regarded as one of the sharpest minds in rugby.
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Dave Porecki of Saracens is tackled by Tom Arscott of Sale Sharks. (Getty)
DAVE PORECKI (NSW Waratahs hooker)
Turinui: Dave will be the No.1 hooker at the Tahs I reckon. He’s had the opportunity to develop over at London Irish (2016-20), played a good brand of footy.
I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen from him and I’m looking forward to seeing him in a Tahs jersey.
I think it’ll give them an edge of maturity that they need and that’s really great for a less experienced side, having a guy with significant experience.
READ MORE:Wallabies coach Dave Rennie on the massive strides Australian rugby must make in 2021
They’ve got a lot of second year guys like (Will) Harrison and the second year is tough for lots of guys.
Whether it’s as tough because it’s Super Rugby AU and you’re not getting the examination from the Kiwis and the Saffas week in and week out, we’ll see.
But we’ve seen most players struggle in that second year as teams have a better look at them.
So that young cohort at the Tahs, it’ll be great to have a guy like Porecki who has had other experiences and I just think is a good footballer.
Dave Porecki of London Irish breaks the tackle of Luke Stratford of Hartpury. (Getty)
He can give them a physical edge but also be great at his core role.
If you can’t throw and you can’t scrum, there’s no point in being a hooker.
It’s great if you can hit and carry and go for the ball but we need guys hitting the target at lineout time and doing his job at scrum time.
We’re learning that more and more as we go along.
The basic, core competencies that are required from a position, especially a specialist one like hooker – they’re just non-negotiables.
And there is opportunity at Wallaby level.
Brandon Paenga-Amosa had an excellent season, Folau Fainga’a – but no-one has really grabbed it and said ‘I want it’ since Stephen Moore.
(Tolu) Latu is overseas, Fainga’a’s good, Paenga-Amosa’s good, (Jordan) Uelese needs a block of time in the saddle – so there’s a lot of candidates there.
(Tom) Horton at the Tahs and guys like that, there’s opportunity but Porecki is a somewhat left field guy that people won’t know a lot about.
He’s a Manly junior, a local guy but people might not have seen a lot of him.
I think he’ll be good for them, especially in what they need.
LEN IKITAU (Brumbies centre)
Turinui: I think everyone’s really keen to see some more footy from Len Ikitau at the Brums.
Obviously he’s got something about him if he’s in and around these top-end squads (Wallabies in 2020) despite not seeing a huge amount of him.
The great thing about the Brumbies is you know that they develop players well.
They’re very good at dropping players into the way they play the game and they succeed really quickly.
Len Ikitau of the Brumbies is tackled by Henry Taefu of the Force. (Getty)
That’s a great advertisement for their program and their coaching staff, how they get them ready.
You know when a young guy comes in at the Brumbies that you can be confident that they can compete and perform.
And Len’s a guy where we need to start to see that week in and week out.
We know about the potential, heard about the potential, we need to start to see that week in and week out.
ROB VALETINI (Brumbies backrower)
Turinui: It’s an important year for a guy like Valetini.
A few judges identified him early, including Wallaby set-ups under both Michael Cheika and Dave Rennie.
I was almost a little bit surprised when he didn’t get picked straight away in the Rugby Champs and had some time off the bench.
I think this is a year where he’s mature enough and he’s trained enough that this is time for a breakout year for him.
Rob Valetini of the Brumbies is tackled at GIO Stadium. (Getty)
It’s not that you want to put pressure on him but this is his opportunity year where if the Brumbies are going to go well then he needs to play well and cement the starting spot.
He’s got to be their go-to ball carrier, go-to physical enforcer.
He’s got to improve his lineout work and things like that, which he has been doing, but if they’re going to go toe to toe with a team like that Reds backrow or the Rebels – that are always confrontational, physical and hard on the ball, this is a year that if he wants to be a Wallaby backrower, he’s got to be head and shoulders above the others this year.
He’s different, not so much a one to watch but one that we’d love to see push.
Trevor Hosea during the 2018 Oceania Rugby U20 Championship. (Getty)
TREVOR HOSEA (Melbourne Rebels lock)
Turinui: Hosea’s always had the body, the height, the physical attributes required.
I watched him play for that pseudo Australia A team against Argentina at TG Millner Sportsground.
And it was evident that he was trying to keep up with the level.
But what I was impressed with – he was pretty cooked in that game, he played big minutes – but he just kept going.
And he’s a guy that I think will benefit so much from being in that Wallaby environment.
I can’t wait to see what he looks like physically, when he runs out in Super Rugby.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie at ANZ Stadium. (Getty)
He’s gone from Super Rugby, into this really intense Wallaby camp – they trained hard right through, especially the guys not playing Test footy. It was hard mentally.
You’re in quarantines and bubbles, not playing a lot of footy but you train and train under Dean Benton (National Head of Athletic Performance at Rugby Australia) and guys like that.
So hopefully he hasn’t regressed over the break and he’s able to come back up and bounce back off that physically.
Hunter Paisami of the Wallabies is tackled by Santiago Chocobares of the Pumas. (Getty)
HUNTER PAISAMI (Queensland Reds centre)
Turinui: Last year was a brilliant first season from where he came from – excellent and raw.
I saw him at the Rebels coming through (as an assistant coach) and it was always obvious that he had talent. He had some off-field issues down there and then got that opportunity at the Reds.
It was great to see him get better and better as the year went on. A lot of people pigeon holed him as an abrasive, physical centre but coming through he always had good skills.
So people looked at him and saw him blossoming in his role.
There’s a lot of raw things he’s got to refine in his game but he can kick and pass and that will get better and better as he works on it and as he gets more comfortable in that position.
He was a kid learning on the job last year and he can be a huge influence on both the Reds and Wallabies going forward.
Isi Naisarani of the Rebels is tackled at the Sydney Cricket Ground. (Getty)
ISI NAISARANI (Rebels backrower)
I saw him at the back of that Wallaby season last year and he looked fit and trim – he looked super. Like he just looked different in the training jerseys.
So it was great to see him back in the environment and taking that second opportunity after missing out on selection and just stripping himself physically. He looked super.
Morgan Turinui in his days as a Rebels assistant coach in 2017. (Getty)
He’s another one when he puts his jersey on you’ll be able to see how serious he is about it. We all know, him at his best, fit and firing, he’s an amazing weapon to have in your footy team, whether it’s Super or Test footy.
So I can’t wait to see his physical capabilities this season and how he can influence the Super Rugby comp.
If he’s fit and firing, getting a lot of ball and the Rebels give a platform for a guy like that, he could be anything this season.
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A fresh season means fresh faces and fresh opportunity.