Michael Cheika has warned would-be Wallabies he is keeping a close watch on National Rugby Championship form and is making selection decisions accordingly.
In a shot at players who might not be taking the three-year-old competition seriously enough, Cheika has demanded those with Test aspirations to start “hitting it out of the park” in Australian rugby’s third tier and catch his attention.
“I’ve seen a few guys who’ve played NRC throughout this (season) and I’m not sure if they think it’s a filler (for) fitness or something like that, but it’s not,” Cheika told reporters.
“We’re looking at every game looking at that for selection because that’s what that tournament’s supposed to do.
“When Wallaby squad members go back there to play, they should be performing from a selection point of view – not just to go and have a run.”
Played in front of small crowds at boutique venues and with little mainstream media coverage, the NRC isn’t exactly the most glamourous platform for Super Rugby players hoping for bigger things.
But Cheika has an eye on everything, promoting uncapped hooker Tolu Latu to the Wallabies squad on the back of his displays for the undefeated NSW Country Eagles.
He wants the same from Will Skelton, praising the gigantic lock for his off-field discipline and weight loss, but saying he wasn’t selected because he lacks match fitness.
“Me taking him on tour, maybe not playing all the time, is not what he needs,” Cheika said.
“I’ve spoken to Willy about getting that dynamism. He’s played a few games, I’ll be looking for him to play the next two and smash it out of the park and really make a difference there, (as well as) Ben McCalman, and get themselves in line to get selected.”
Meanwhile, Cheika has endorsed dual-code warrior Brad Thorn’s bid to continue his two-decade career by playing for Queensland Country in the NRC this weekend.
Thorn, 41, has been named on the bench to make his 451st appearance as a professional league or union player against the Western Sydney Rams at Concord Oval.
Cheika rubbished suggestions the former All Blacks and Kangaroos great was blocking the path of younger players.
“If we want to make it just a youth tournament, make it under-20s,” Cheika said.
“I think the experiences of playing against an older guy will only make you better. That’s how rugby’s always been.
“If Taniela (Tupou) gets to play with Brad (for example), from an experience point of view, it can only be invaluable to him.
“I know they’re only small periods of time but they can resonate around attitude and things like that.”