Three uncapped players will make their Wallaby debuts on Saturday but Samu Kerevi is the golden egg, and at Suncorp we might be witnessing the start of a very special Test career.
What has made Kerevi stand out from the pack over the last two seasons in Super Rugby has been his ability to play head and shoulders above the standard of the rest of a mediocre Reds team around him.
The Queensland franchise are going through one of their roughest patches, a far cry from their 2011 title, but when Will Genia, Quade Cooper and James Horwill were still around last year through to now in the 2016 season without them, Kerevi has constantly impressed.
Still only 22, this season he has gone from being the up-and-coming talent to the dependable weapon the Reds have turned to in order to cross the gain line. That’s backed up statistically. Kerevi’s 19 line breaks this season are four off the leader in that category, while only Damian McKenzie has beaten more defenders than the 46 tacklers Kerevi has gone past this season.
His athleticism and power hardly come as a surprise after you learn that he’s the cousin of Radike Samo, the Wallaby who despite being a back-row by trade was used on the wing by Australia during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Kerevi has the physical mould at 186cm and 108kg to wreak havoc on the short ball off the lineout or first phase around the fringes of the ruck. But it’s the pace he shows when breaking the line initially which is so deceptive. Once the afterburners are flicked on he’s far from easy to haul in, legs pumping like pistons through tackle attempts.
Critics will no doubt round on the Wallabies again for poaching another top talent from the Pacific Islands, and it’s true that Kerevi was born in Fiji, in the village of Viseisei, and is also the son of a former Fiji international football player, Nimilote Kerevi.
Kerevi turned out for the Fiji U-20 side at the 2012 World Rugby U-20 Championship too. But as an attendee at Brisbane State High School and being a former Australian Schools Rugby Championships representative after moving to Australia as a young child with his family, there’s little debate to be had.
Now his next outing in a gold jersey will be in a super-sized centre partnership alongside Brumbies regular Tevita Kuridrani, another Fiji-born player who in many ways has set the example for Kerevi to follow in his successful Test career to date.
The combination of having Kuridrani on his outside and making his Test debut in the familiar setting of Suncorp Stadium will both be reassuring factors for the young man as he makes the next step up in his career, but it’s one he looks ready for.
Dane Haylett-Petty and Rory Arnold, the other two new caps, have more than earned their starting roles going off their form in Super Rugby. But all eyes will be on Kerevi, whose power and footwork will give this Wallabies side a new feel compared to the one who unravelled opposing sides with their two-playmaker backline system at last year’s Rugby World Cup.
Ben Coles, Pundit Arena
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