Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham says ‘dream not over’ for Christian Lealiifano to play Super Rugby this year

10/03/2019 Posted by admin

Brumbies recruit Wharenui Hawera is the “frontrunner” to step into the No.10 jersey. Photo: Rohan Thomson Christian Lealiifano is still an outside chance to play in 2017. Photo: Brendon Thorne
Nanjing Night Net

ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham says the “dream is not over” for Christian Lealiifano to play Super Rugby this season.

But he’s backed Wharenui Hawera as the “frontrunner” to wear the No.10 jersey in Lealiifano’s absence.

Larkham said Lealiifano was halfway through his recovery period following his bone marrow transplant after he was diagnosed with leukaemia last year.

He said last season’s co-captain was “going well” and he was still hopeful Lealiifano would play some role in the 2017 season.

Along with Hawera, Larkham has several options to fill Lealiifano’s boots at flyhalf.

Former Western Force centre Kyle Godwin, who made his Wallabies debut last year, was one, while the Brumbies coach could also turn to youngster Nick Jooste and fullback Aidan Toua.

“We have the option of Kyle playing 10, but we’ve also got young Nick Jooste coming through. Aidan Toua’s played 10 in the past as well, so he might give us some coverage there,” Larkham said.

“And then the dream is not over for Christian yet. He’s past the halfway stage. He has to be monitored for 100 days post the transplant and I’m pretty optimistic.

“I’d certainly like to see him back at some stage this year, but the odds are probably against that.

“Between those four guys, with the possibility of Christian, there’s good depth and enough there to play the way we want to play.”

But the man most likely to wear the No.10 was Hawera, who the Brumbies have plucked out of New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup where he played for the Southland Stags last season.

The 23-year-old spent four seasons at Waikato before joining the Stags and while he was yet to be part of a Super Rugby program, Larkham was impressed with Hawera’s skills.

“You can certainly tell he’s played in a high-level competition before at 10. His organisation out on the field is top notch,” Larkham said.

“He certainly stands out there in terms of the 10s we’ve got here at the moment. His organisation is better than the other guys.

“His understanding of the game plan and the way that we want to play is already there and he’s got a great skill set both with the ball in hand and defensively.

“There’s obviously a few games to go before the start of the season, but he’s certainly put his best foot forward so far and at this stage probably the frontrunner for that position.”

Hawera joined the Brumbies on a training trial for the chance to earn a contract.

He now has his sights set on making his Super Rugby run-on debut against the Canterbury Crusaders in round one.

“I’m stoked to be here and it’s been a long road, played in New Zealand for a few years and jumped at the opportunity to come over here for a bit of a trial and to see all the hard work pay off, it’s pretty good and pretty satisfying,” Hawera said.

“I’ve just got to put my best foot forward and train hard and earn the boys’ respect first and foremost and then just hope for the best.”

Larkham said that first-round team was starting to take shape, but there was still a few weeks of pre-season, as well as the two trials, for players to impress.

He said all three hookers were in the running to replace departed Wallabies captain Stephen Moore, while Chris Alcock was ahead in the race to replace David Pocock, who is having a sabbatical this year.

“Saia [Faingaa’s] had one of his best off-seasons. He’s really enjoyed coming back down … [Josh Mann-Rea’s] just a team man through and through so he’ll train as hard as he can every single time and Robbie Abel’s certainly improved his skill since last I saw him,” Larkham said of his three hookers.

“They’re all putting their hand up, they know there’s a great opportunity there for one of them.

“[There’s] good competition [at openside flanker] as well. There’s Jarrad Butler, there’s Jordan Smiler, there’s Tom Cusack, Rob Valetini. There’s a number of guys in that back row that can play any number of positions there, but Chris Alcock is probably the standout at this stage.”

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