The left-field options who could take Hooper’s Waratahs No.7 jersey


Halfback Jake Gordon has been appointed captain in Hooper’s absence but the more intriguing element to Hooper’s time away is who will occupy his No.7 spot.

With just over three weeks before the Waratahs face the Queensland Reds in round one of Super Rugby AU, there are a handful of options – some conventional and others more experimental.

As traditional No.7s, by way of having more of an on-ball presence, Carlo Tizzano and Charlie Gamble appear frontrunners for the role.

Tizzano, 20, has eight minutes of Super Rugby to his name but is tipped to have a bright future, while Gamble, a former Crusaders academy product who plays for Eastern Suburbs, is uncapped.

“It’s a good opportunity for Carlo and Charlie,” Whitaker said. “Both have trained really well. It’s another opportunity for other back-rowers though if you decide not to go with a traditional No.7.”

Which is where someone like 14-Test Wallaby Jack Dempsey comes in. Throughout his career, Dempsey has predominantly played No.6 and a bit at No.8 but used to play occasionally as an openside breakaway when he was younger.

Charlie Gamble is also an option for the No.7 jersey this year. Credit:Getty Images

Whitaker said a shift to No.7 could be on the cards for Dempsey, or possibly even new Wallaby Lachie Swinton, youngster Will Harris or even Hugh Sinclair, depending on how the Waratahs want to play.

Out of position, sure, but Whitaker believes they can fill the void effectively.

For a player like Dempsey, who wasn’t included in any Wallabies squads last year, it could add another string to to his bow if he’s on the other side of the scrum in a slightly different role.

“We’re lucky in that we’ve got guys like Dempsey who can play No.7,” Whitaker said. “We’re lucky we’ve got two very good openside breakaways [in Tizzano and Gamble] but there are guys who can fill in if they want to. You’ve got the ability to switch and change how you want to play.

Carlo Tizzano has only played eight minutes of Super Rugby but is a highly rated youngster.

Carlo Tizzano has only played eight minutes of Super Rugby but is a highly rated youngster. Credit:NSW Rugby

“There will be an opportunity in a trial against Queensland in Narrabri (on February 5) so it’s up for grabs.”

Despite losing a number of high profile players, Whitaker doesn’t want to dwell on the past and is confident another young group can challenge for the title.

The Waratahs won just one of their six matches in Super Rugby before the competition was abandoned due to COVID-19.

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In Super Rugby AU, the team chalked up four victories from eight starts and finished fourth out of five teams.

“This year we’ve got about 11 guys who made their debuts last year, so we’re expecting some exciting things from some of the players,” Whitaker said.

New recruit Izaia Perese, a Wallabies squad member for the spring tour of 2016 who then defected to rugby league, has impressed NSW coaching staff and will push for a start in round one.

“He’s been really good and adds a lot of excitement,” Whitaker said. “He is the type of guy who just loves playing footy and he gives us a lot of energy. Foot-wise, you can see why he got a taste of being in a Wallabies squad when he was very young. He’s a very talented player.

“He’s still learning the systems here and how we do things but I expect some positive things from him this year.”

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Wise words spur on Storm No.7 Hughes


It took a couple of rugby league’s most revered men to finally convince Jahrome Hughes of his NRL worth, but his story is par for the course in Melbourne.

Once again the Storm will charge into the season’s final – against Penrith on Sunday – led by a series of key figures in their spine.

But this year there is no Cooper Cronk in the No.7 jersey and no Billy Slater at fullback. Instead it is makeshift halfback Hughes at his third club and up-and-coming No.1 Ryan Papenhuyzen.

With Cameron Smith tossing up his future and Cameron Munster hampered by a knee injury at various times this season, the pair are the latest unearthed gems to propel the club to a grand final – their fourth in the last five years.

It was former fullback Hughes who set the tone against Canberra on Friday night, tearing the Raiders apart as Melbourne scored three tries inside the first 10 minutes.

“I made a big thing before this game that I wanted to go in confident and Craig was into me all week saying ‘back yourself’,” he told AAP.

“I have come from a couple of clubs and found my spot here but there wasn’t really one moment when the penny dropped.

“You can hear it (praise and encouragement) from other people, but when you hear it from Cameron Smith and Craig Bellamy … I look up to those guys so much.

“And in a good Melbourne Storm team I knew I had to step up and change my ways there, so it was good to have a full preseason (at No.6).”

New Zealand-born Hughes went to school on the Gold Coast and played just one NRL game for both the Titans and North Queensland before the Storm took a punt on him.

Papenhuyzen played under-20s for Wests Tigers before Melbourne signed him and, after dominating for their Queensland Cup feeder team on the Sunshine Coast, is now on the cusp of wearing the NSW No.1 jersey next month.

“I can’t remember the club signing any sort of representative player over the last half-dozen years,” Cameron Smith said.

“We’ve lost some of the greatest players to ever play our game and replaced them with kids, and now look where they are – playing on the greatest stage next week.

“They haven’t fluked it, they’ve worked hard and … that’s what I’ve really enjoyed (this season), watching the Papenhuyzens and Hugheses come through and now they get their shot.”





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