Freakish teen eyes Wallabies debut
FREAKISH teen Jordan Petaia is being sized up for a remarkable Test debut at just 18 now he is certain of selection on the Wallabies tour of Japan and Europe.
The strapping centre-winger has bulldozed concerns he is too young or needs cotton-wool tour treatment as a non-Test development player with his eye-popping progress.
The Wallabies don't have enough strong-running, classical outside centres that they can afford to bypass the teen spirit who has excelled for the Reds and now Queensland Country.
In Tamworth on Saturday, Petaia received messy ball, flatfooted, and in a twinkling turned it into a stepping, elusive dash past four NSW Country defenders to score a try.
Petaia would be the youngest player to debut for the Wallabies since James O'Connor a decade ago if he plays any minutes against the All Blacks, Wales, Italy or England.
Playing the Kiwis in Yokohama on Saturday week is a stretch, but a Test initiation against Italy on tour, just as O'Connor did, looks perfect.
The bench is the obvious first step for Petaia, whose name is now a must for the tour squad to be named this week.
Everything he learnt in 11 games for the Reds has been poured into seven dominant games for seven tries with Country in their run to the semi-finals of the National Rugby Championship.
At 98 kg and 1.9m, Petaia caught the eye of Wallabies boss Michael Cheika when he stepped up in a large train-on squad before the Bledisloe Cup Tests in August.
His soaring kick-catch to score a try in the Wallabies' trial match at Sydney's Leichhardt Oval showed his versatile skills.
In Tamworth, there were two tries but also unselfish hands shifting two neat passes in the second half.
Cheika may be meeting Rugby Australia heavies on Friday in Sydney to discuss what and who can make a difference to the Wallabies' chequered run at the World Cup.
Petaia's name is definitely one.
He has far more rugby nous and subtlety than Test winger Marika Koroibete, who may be a fine, seasoned footballer but one who keeps repeating his defensive mistakes.
NSW Waratahs centre Curtis Rona may be the unlucky back to miss a tour spot now Petaia's star is rising and 21-Test outside centre Samu Kerevi is on the way back.
Kerevi is building strength after two surgeries to repair a torn bicep and a wrist tendon.
He won't be fit to face the All Blacks in Yokohama on Saturday week but he will be selected in the squad for the training camp that follows and the European leg starting with Wales in Cardiff on November 10.
The value of Kerevi's direct running to the Wallabies was never more evident than in the six Tests of The Rugby Championship when the gold attack lapsed into lateral running far too often.