Rugby Championship

Reece Hodge coy on centre role for Wallabies

2018-08-13 10:55
Reece Hodge (Getty)

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 well. 

"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 Saturday." 

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 added. 

"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 cut. 

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 series opener. 

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 said. 

“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 year. 

“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."

Read more on:    wallabies  |  michael cheika  |  rugby

 

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