Much has been made of the Waratahs and their star-studded side. As we all know, names on paper don't always equate to wins on the field, but they sure do help.
Having the Waratahs start a Super Rugby campaign as the most talked about Australian team is an annual occurrence; everyone seems so quick to discount the other franchises. But as we have learned over the years, the Reds and Brumbies are proven performers.
Of the remaining franchises, the Rebels seem set for improved results and the Force remain a work in progress. Here's a look at the other Australian teams and the players worth watching in the coming months.
For the first time the Rebels went through pre-season trial matches and kept a clean sheet. You may say, "Well hooray for them, that doesn't mean much." Yet for Tony McGahan and his crew it breeds confidence, which is needed in this young group. We know of Scott Higginbotham and Luke Burgess, but what the Rebels will need is the younger generation of players to step up. Tom English had an outstanding season last year on the wing and found himself a regular in the team. He was rewarded by being named Rebels rookie of the year and is flexible enough in his skills to play varied positions. He is being touted as the next Adam Ashley-Cooper, a player for all occasions and positions. What he does possess is size and speed and the all important ability to finish a try. Look for this young man to again have a strong season.
This Queensland outfit is strong in all areas. The scrum has an international flavour to it and the backs have poise, flair and aggression. But one player has been quick to attract attention: the new kid on the block, Aidan Toua. I say new kid because he has been in the Reds stable for three years but injury has played havoc with his career thus far. It was his memorable try against the Brumbies that made me take note.
Why was it so special? The fact was that he hit the line coming back at the pass, not drifting. It's a courageous line. Then to add the speed in the next five metres to gap the defence and quickly sum up the situation with a defender in front while holding the ball in two hands. It all looked so simple. Hopefully we see more of the former school boy prodigy.
The ACT Brumbies, like the Reds and Tahs, boast a plethora of Wallabies in their line-up, but for all the skill that these players have, you need balance. The yin and yang, you could call it. Nic White, Matt Toomua and, when fit, Christian Lealiifano have all the markings of trying to emulate Stephen Larkham's nonchalant playing style. The Brumbies' yang is their muscle up front. You could single out any number of players but Scott Fardy has been for me a standout when it comes to the enforcer role. He gives away a couple of penalties, yes, but I relate him to the character in the movie The Blind Side. A genuine blindside flanker. Big, aggressive and wanting to axe people. (A technical term. Feel free to use it.) He made this role his own in the internationals last season and played consistent rugby, something that's difficult to achieve in that role. He has some help around him, but I feel he will play a big part in the leadership role this year with the Brumbies and the Wallabies.
The Western Force need consistency. Unfortunately that is their biggest downfall. They have a team spotted with internationals, most notable the "honey badger", Nick Cummins, doing his thing on the field and trying to better it with his antics and quotes off the field. However entertaining they are, they still need leadership and one player who has grown in that role and will continue to attain more responsibility is Kyle Godwin. He sits in that all important 12 role that plays wing man to the five-eighth, reading the plays and offering up assistance. His attributes include his passing and his sleight of hand, but that's not to say he doesn't have the ability to take on defences with his speed, size and step. Plenty of importance will be placed upon his shoulders in season 2014 as will be the above mentioned, but what should make these men better players are those around them offering guidance and direction to let them succeed.