Sydney - Reece Hodge has moved one step closer to the Wallabies 13
jersey after coach Michael Cheika announced a trimmed-down squad for the first
Bledisloe Cup clash with the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday.
Waratahs centre Curtis Rona loomed as Hodge's major
competition for the role but he was one of eight players cut from the squad six
days out from the Test opener.
Israel Folau is the only other possibility for the spot,
though Cheika has been adamant he prefers him in the 15 jersey.
Cheika said after the Wallabies trial at Leichhardt Oval
that Hodge or Rona would be the most likely 13 options for the opening Bledisloe.
Despite the signs all pointing to the Rebels utility
stepping up to that spot, Hodge was keeping his cards close to his chest when
asked about the prospect on Sunday.
"There's still a few guys in the squad who can play
13," he said.
"Izzy's (Folau) still an option as well. At the moment,
throughout the preparation, the last few weeks has been about trying as many
combinations we can get comfortable playing next to everyone who's in the squad
and I think it's going to be really important for us come game one.
"Getting that game time a couple of weeks ago to try
out those combinations under a match situation and then throughout training as
"It's important to be able to play depending on who's
where. Cheik's still got a week to change his mind about selections, so who
knows where it's going to up but we're prepared as best we can be for
The Friday night trial match gave Hodge a chance to run at
13 with plenty of the players he could line up with in that first Test.
A Test start at outside centre would all but complete the
set for Hodge, who has played wing, inside centre and fly-half for the
Wallabies as well.
"Just being able to have that hit out a couple of weeks
out makes a big mental and physical difference going into that first game, so I
really enjoyed and good to get a bit of game time in the centres," he
"Now, for me I've played pretty much everywhere this
year so wherever I'm put on the weekend I'll feel comfortable.
Tom Banks and Jack Maddocks will be likely competing for a
Test debut in the clash, the only two uncapped players left in the squad after
Jordan Petaia, Billy Meakes, Folau Faingaa and Jermaine Ainsley missing the
Banks and Maddocks may be competing for the last spot on the
bench in Sydney, with Dane Haylett-Petty cleared of a knee injury ahead of the
Scott Sio (shoulder) and Michael Hooper (hamstring) have
also been passed fit, while Rory Arnold, Caleb Timu, Billy Meakes and Sefa
Naivalu are the others who missed the cut after a week-long camp in Cessnock.
Cheika explained that the move to whittle the squad down was
about ensuring there was a more concentrated focus on the match day players.
"We'll have some extra players in there on Monday and
Tuesday, so we can get our training done and then I just think that I want to
have a bit more focus on the group that's going to play the game," he
“I want the guys that are not playing in that given week to
go and play some footy, whether it be Club or NRC, depending on the time of
“I just think that little bit of extra focus on a smaller
group of players in there can build our alignment and cohesion.
“Everyone's focused on the one task, everyone knows what
their role is."