Kepu back in Waratahs jersey
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: The Waratahs confirmed that 30 players of their 2016 35-man squad have stayed with the franchise for the 2017 Super Rugby season.
The squad of 35 players include the return of experienced Waratahs, Sekope Kepu and Damien Fitzpatrick, and 12 who have re-committed to the franchise this year.
Twelve players have international Test experience, including Tom Robertson and Tolu Latu who made their Wallabies debuts this year, as well as Paddy Ryan and Taqele Naiyaravoro who have both recently been called back into the Australian squad. Current Wallabies development players, Andrew Kellaway and Jack Dempsey remain part of the Tahs after both re-signing this year.
The team features eight new signings, including promising young flyhalf, Mack Mason who has been handed a supplementary squad contract, together with standout NSW Country Eagles representatives, prop, Sam Needs and flyhalf, Andrew Deegan, who has been promoted from a development contract.
Once again the team is filled with players who are proud to call NSW home, with 83 percent having been born and/or grown up across the state. This includes 25 percent who were born and / or raised in country NSW towns, including Dubbo, Tamworth, Coonamble, Wellington, Orange, Taree and Yamba.
Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson said he was looking forward to seeing how the team comes together ahead of what will be another big season of Super Rugby in 2017.
"We have retained a great mix of youth and experience for next season; players who are keen and determined and will no doubt add new energy to the team in 2017," Gibson said.
"You only have to look back at the success of our rookies this year, in both the Super Rugby and NRC, to see the potential of the talent that we have. I am very confident in the abilities of these new players as they will no doubt add to the competition for spots.
"At the same time, we have grown our leadership capacity with an emerging set of new leaders to support Michael Hooper and carry the legacy and culture that form the foundations of this Club.
"Our players are proud to represent NSW and enjoy the responsibility that comes with pulling on the jersey. We want to continue to use this to create an environment that we want to be part of and for them to take ownership of the team.
"It is pleasing to see the team made up of so much local talent. This is a true reflection of the NSW rugby pathways system, which continues to go from strength to strength as we renew our focus on the grassroots with the recent amalgamation of the community and professional arms of the organisation,"
NRC Player of the Year and Shield Rookie of the Year, Irae Simone has been offered an extended playing squad contract, joining his Northern Suburbs club teammate, Michael Wells who signed a full contract earlier this year. Both starred in the team’s first Shute Shield Championship title in 41 years this season.
Lock, Leon Power who signed with the Waratahs in August has been released from the squad to undergo knee surgery after suffering an ACL injury. A replacement lock will be named in due course.
A number of non-contracted players have also been invited to join as part of the extended training squad following standout performances in the NSW NRC teams, including Western Sydney Rams, Tyrone Viiga, Dave Lolohea, and Brandon Paenga-Amosa, as well as NSW Country Eagles’, Mitch Short and Sydney Rays’, Rory O’Connor.
The Waratahs will kick off their season with three trial matches, two of which will be home games at Mudgee and Brookvale before their Super Rugby campaign officially commences on Saturday, February 25 against the Western Force at Allianz Stadium.
Forwards: Sekope Kepu, Sam Needs, Tom Robertson, Paddy Ryan, Matt Sandell, Angus Ta’avao, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tolu Latu, Hugh Roach, Ned Haniga, Ryan McCauley, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, Senio Toleafoa, Jack Dempsey, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Michael Wells, Brad Wilkin.
Backs: Jake Gordon, Matt Lucas, Nick Phipps, Andrew Deegan, Bernard Foley, Bryce Hegarty, Mack Mason, Israel Folau, Irae Simone, Rob Horne, David Horwitz, Cameron Clark, Harry Jones, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Andrew Kellaway, Reece Robinson.