WALLABIES Adam Ashley Cooper, Sekope Kepu, Matt Toomua and Nic White will be going head-to-head in this weekend’s blockbuster Super Rugby semi-final but later in the year the central west could be treated to their presence during the National Rugby Championships (NRC).
NSW Waratahs duo Ashley-Cooper and Kepu and ACT Brumbies pair Toomua and White were aligned with the NSW Country Eagles on Monday afternoon when the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) announced its national player allocation for the revamped NRC, which arrives in Orange in September when the Eagles take on the Melbourne Rising.
The Eagles will also play the Perth Spirit in Dubbo in October and NSW Country general manager James Grant believes having the four national representative stars in the squad, whether in a playing capacity or not, is vital to the success of the NRC.
“I’d be very surprised if any play in the NRC. Ewan McKenzie (Wallabies coach) might give them a bit of game time but all the boys are keen to be associated with the Eagles and their presence gives us some real credibility,” he said.
“It’s important they’re part of it. You’ve got to support your roots where you can and it’s all well and good to play for the Wallabies but you’ve got to remember where you came from.”
Grant insisted all national players were serious about assisting in the promotion of the NRC, with the likes of Israel Folau (Sydney Stars), Kurtley Beale (Greater Sydney Rams), Will Genia (Brisbane City) and Christian Leali’ifano (University of Canberra Vikings) all keen to be a part of the competition, which kicks off on August 21.
“Adam Ashley-Cooper is probably the most high profile of the (Country) group and he was originally put in a metro team but he put his hand up and wanted to be with part of Country, so that lets everyone know he’s serious about it,” he said.
The Waratahs and Brumbies meet in a Super Rugby elimination semi-final this weekend and all four NSW Country players look likely to be part of the Wallabies squad later this year, putting doubts over their playing roles, but Grant said he expects the players to at least attend some games if their schedule allows it.
“We certainly like to think so, they’ll be pretty busy with the national program but given half a chance they’d want to come out and support it,” he said.
“It would be good to have them at regional games like Dubbo.”
One central west player who already looks to have a place nailed down in the Eagles squad is Canowindra product John Grant.
Grant has been hugely impressive in this season’s Shute Shield and his name has featured regularly on the list of tryscorers for competition heavyweights Eastwood.
James Grant, who also happens to be John’s uncle, said the speedy winger is the type of player who could score a Super Rugby contract if he performs well in the NRC.
“He’s agreed to play and he is a player we identified fairly early. He’s a player with plenty of potential and he’s had some injuries but this is ideal for someone like him and we can showcase his skills,” Grant said.
The NSW Country Eagles meet the Melbourne Rising at Orange’s Wade Park on September 20.