After a fortnight of stewing, the NSW Waratahs are bent on stamping their authority on the Super Rugby season in Friday night’s bumper showdown with the benchmark Highlanders.
The 2014 champions are relishing the chance to ignite their stop-start campaign with a statement win over the titleholders after stalling with a painful last-up loss to the Brumbies and then a bye.
“Everyone has gotten one more game under their belt, or most teams have, so we’ve been stinging to get back into it,” skipper Michael Hooper said on Thursday after the Tahs’ captain’s run.
“We’ve watched a lot of footy, it seems like, but we haven’t played a lot.
“So we’re good to go.”
Hooper says the Waratahs were driven more by the disappointment of their defeat to their arch rivals in the national capital than any talk of revenge after the Highlanders shattered the Sydneysiders’ title defence in last year’s semi-final at Allianz Stadium.
“As a team, we hate losing,” the flanker said.
“The last game we lost was against the Brumbies and we hate that even more.
“This is a completely new challenge this week. It couldn’t be more different than the last game we had down in Canberra.
“So we’re keen, we’ve prepared well, had some time to dwell on two weeks ago now and really roll into this game with guns blazing.”
Coach Daryl Gibson is also backing his charges to rebound, confident they have used the break constructively to iron out technical deficiencies at the all-important set piece that has undermined the Waratahs’ start to 2016.
“I think we’ll respond well,” Gibson said.
“We’re really, really keen to play some rugby.
“If anything, we’ve only played two games and we feel like we really need to get out and show what we can do, particularly given in the Brumbies game, we had 27 per cent of the ball.
“We’re a ball-in-hand team so we’re really keen to get back on track. It’s important for us that we get back on track.”
Aside from losing hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau to a broken arm, the only other change Gibson has made to his pack is the inclusion of veteran No.8 Wycliff Palu.
The coach is looking for a big 30 to 40 minutes from his most-destructive forward before introducing young gun Jed Holloway.
Gibson noted how the Highlanders “really shifted up a gear” in their win over the Lions last week, leaving the Waratahs acutely aware of the challenge ahead.
“They’re a very creative team with really good players across the park,” Hooper said.
“Their backs are slippery. They play an expansive game, their forwards are really hard workers so they do deliver a really quick, upbeat game, which is great.
“We love to play that here in Sydney.”