Waratahs prepared to test Alofa Alofa in Super Rugby opener against Western Force
Bolter: Alofa Alofa at Waratahs training on Thursday. Photo: Anthony JohnsonAlofa Alofa was supposed to be this year’s back-line ”project” for the Waratahs coaching staff.
An undeniably talented winger with magic feet and a good attitude, the plan was for the one-time Sydney Roosters prospect to tuck in behind the likes of Cam Crawford, Peter Betham and Matt Carraro for a year of solid development. If he handled the environment well, the Sydney-raised West Harbour product might earn a start later in the season. For a 22-year-old on a rookie contract, it would be an entirely respectable start in professional rugby.
”We have some very good outside-back talent,” Waratahs attack coach Daryl Gibson said in the lead-up to Alofa’s shock starting debut this week. ”We thought we could use Alofa as a project and work with him over the year and hopefully he could get a start. He has certainly gone way beyond that, and good on him.”
New seasons are full of potential new stars. Ben Volavola was last year’s club rugby bolter. After eight Super Rugby matches and two tries in his debut season, the rangy playmaker is bubbling along nicely on an upgraded contract. But he is also learning what it means to fight for selection behind big names such as Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley. Alofa is, by his own admission, at the start of a long road. But his back-line coach sees nothing but upside in rewarding talent, hard work and form in Sunday’s season opener.
”He’s been through the league system so he’s been very well catered for there and his contact work is very good,” Gibson said. ”Everything to date has gone so well for him that based on that information, we’ve decided to go with him.”
For a young man who was working in a warehouse until Michael Cheika asked him to fly to Argentina with his squad last year, the prospect of starting alongside Israel Folau and Beale is something he has had to wrap his head around.
”It’s been a real quick rise but, after all the hard training, it’s paid off,” Alofa said. ”I do feel a lot of pressure but it’s part of the game. There’s always someone there out to get your spot so, if you’re not going to perform well, then you’ll get cut. I’m ready to try to keep my game consistent.”
His next test comes in two days, when the Waratahs open their season against the Force at Allianz Stadium. There will be talent, pace and size to contend with – Nick Cummins, Luke Morahan and Junior Rasolea will have their ears pinned back, ready to go. But Gibson believes his project is ready.
”In that Blues trial [two weeks ago], the crowd really warmed to him,” he said. ”He’s got really quick feet and seems to keep the ball alive. If he can reproduce that on Sunday, then I’m sure they will warm to him very quickly again.”
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