Melbourne Rebels rookie Reece Hodge is one of a handful of Wallabies bolters that will be revealed after Michael Cheika cuts nine names from the extended training squad.
Utility back Hodge – who has played only nine matches of Super Rugby – wasn’t even in Cheika’s initial 39-man group for their Sunshine Coast camp, only joining the group as a replacement for injured Rebels teammate Mike Harris (hamstring).
But the 21-year-old has made the most of his opportunity and is in contention to make his international debut in the series opener against England on June 11 at Suncorp Stadium.
“There’s a couple of guys that’ll be in that I genuinely probably didn’t think would’ve been beforehand – probably more than a couple – but because of what they’ve done in training I think they’ve earned the right to go to the next week,” Cheika told reporters on Friday.
“I can’t tell you (who) yet.”
Cheika will confirm his 30-man squad for the first Test later on Friday after the team’s final training session at their Caloundra base.
Intriguingly, media has been blocked from attending the session – the first sign of mind games from Cheika, who has refused to indulge chirpy England coach Eddie Jones in a war of words.
Jones said on Thursday the Australian media was part of an “orchestrated” campaign to undermine touring sides.
Asked who among the new faces and young guns in the Wallaby squad has stood out this week, Wallabies vice-captain Michael Hooper didn’t hesitate to name Hodge, who is among a handful of strong contenders for the vacant inside centre position.
“He’s been really good, stepped in, has a maturity for his age,” Hooper said.
“He’s come on leaps and bounds from when I’ve seen him play for Manly, through the Rebels this year and it’s fantastic when guys get opportunities like that to come and grab it.
“Reece was last week probably planning a week off, (but) to come in and grab it with both hands … shows some really good development in his game.”
Karmichael Hunt is also expected to step up his training involvement on Friday, despite speculation his chances of playing in the first Test were reduced because of a niggling groin injury.