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The winners and losers from the 2022 Wallabies season

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Geoff Caddick / AFP) (Photo by GEOFF CADDICK/AFP via Getty Images)

An injury-ravaged Wallabies side showed plenty of fight, character and potential throughout a tough international campaign which was defined by an inability to close out tight Test matches.

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The wounded Wallabies failed to win several hard-fought Test matches throughout the year that was, with poor discipline and inconsistent team selections hurting the men in gold.

While sport is ultimately a results driven business, Australia can still take plenty of positives out of their season ahead of next year’s World Cup.

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Australia began their year with a thrilling win over rivals England in Perth, before disaster struck as they lost six of their next eight Test matches.

While their end-of-season tour in Europe wasn’t much better in terms of results – losing three in a row by three points or less – the progress this team made cannot be ignored.

In fact, the Wallabies have rightfully emerged as a genuine World Cup dark horse after pushing both France and Ireland for almost 80 minutes.

The Wallabies may have lost those battles, but to truly challenge the two best teams in the world in the manner that they did is something special – and they did so with several players ruled out.

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Injuries cost many star players valuable minutes on the field this year, but it also gave Dave Rennie the opportunity to develop the depth of the Australian team.

A couple of players have emerged as genuine World Cup bolters after doing the coveted jersey justice last month, while others have a point to prove in Super Rugby next season.

 

Winners

Jock Campbell (Fullback)

Jock Campbell’s rise to Test rugby has been nothing short of incredible, as he’s emerged as a genuine World Cup bolter after making his debut in the gold jersey.

Campbell played for The Southport School’s 2nd XV in High School, but clearly he dared to dream and worked both tirelessly and passionately for higher honours.

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While the 27-year-old has been a mainstay of the Queensland Reds’ matchday squads for a few years now, Campbell was given an opportunity to take the step in his career with Australia A this year.

After impressing with that Australian squad in Japan, the utility back was called up to the Wallabies squad for their end-of-season tour – and he didn’t disappoint.

Campbell made his international debut against Scotland at Murrayfield, before getting the chance to start in the No. 15 jersey on one of the biggest stages the sport has to offer.

The international rookie started out the back in the gold jersey against World No. 2 France in Paris, and he certainly did the jersey justice. Campbell scored a try and played a key role in another during Australia’s thrilling loss.

Campbell has a point to prove in Super Rugby next year, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s certainly in with a chance of going to next year’s World Cup.

 

Len Ikitau (Centre)

Len Ikitau is world class – or the very least, he’s well on his way to earning that label.

After making his international debut last year, Ikitau took his game to a new level in 2022. Ikitau started a number of the games in the gold jersey this year, and has all but booked his ticket to France.

The Wallabies wouldn’t be the same without Ikitau, who is the defensive mastermind behind the Australian backline – reminiscent of Anton Leinert-Brown in his prime.

But what was most striking about the star centre this year was how he stood up as a leader when the Wallabies needed him, especially against France and Wales.

Without Samu Kerevi and Hunter Paisami, Ikitau was clearly confident enough to call the shots and lead his team around the park.

 

Mark Nawaqanitawase (Wing)

Mark Nawaqanitawase is the most exciting player in Australian rugby right now.

The rising star only played three Test matches on the Wallabies’ end-of-season tour, but he truly made the most of every opportunity he was given.

Nawaqanitawase made his international debut against Italy in Florence, but the 22-year-old improved with every performance in the famous gold jersey.

The winger was at his best against Wales in Cardiff, where he scored two tries in 10 minutes and led the visitors’ incredible resurgence.

Nawaqanitawase received Player of the Match honours after Australia’s incredible comeback win at the Principality Stadium.

While he still has plenty of prove with the Waratahs in Super Rugby next year – as he looks to lock down a starting jersey at that level first – Nawaqanitawase has to go to the World Cup.

In terms of the winners and losers from the year that was, Nawaqanitawase has undoubtedly benefited the most.

 

Rob Valetini (Back row)

While the Wallabies struggled in some Test matches, there were only a handful of players who performed a consistently high standard no matter what.

Valetini was one of them.

The rampaging backrower had a career-best campaign in gold this year, where he cemented his place in the Australian starting side.

In fact, considering the form he’s in, there aren’t many international teams that he couldn’t theoretically walk into if given the chance.

 

Tom Wright (Wing)

The Rugby World Cup is an incredible event that pits the best of the best against each other; where dreams are realised or dashed in the hunt for the sport’s ultimate prize.

But some players who have starred in their nations colours for years will be told to stay at home after missing out on selection.

Australia some world class talent in their outside backs, but they all won’t be part of the squad that travels to France – that maths just doesn’t add up.

With the World Cup nigh on the horizon, this year was always going to be an opportunity for players to stake their claim.

Well, Tom Wright may have done enough.

The former NRL utility back showcased his versatility at Test level this level this year on both the wing and at fullback, which gives his World Cup hopes a major boost.

Wright was one of the Wallabies best players this year, as he performed at a consistently high level in practically every Test match.

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Losers

Harry Wilson (Back row)

It wasn’t that long ago that Harry Wilson was the next big thing in Australian rugby. While his playing days are far from, it seems like he’s fallen out of favour.

The back row is another position where Australia has some exciting depth, including the likes of Rob Valetini, Pete Samu and Jed Holloway.

But at such a young age, Wilson has proved himself to be one of the best players in Super Rugby with the Queensland Reds.

Wilson only started two Test matches this year, and didn’t play a part in any others, and was later left out of the national squad for the Autumn Nations Series.

The 23-year-old has just started pre-season with the Reds, ahead of what promises to be a majorly important Super Rugby campaign for the loose forward.

 

James O’Connor (Flyhalf)

It’s no secret that James O’Connor is a gifted and talented rugby player, who has starred in the No. 10 jersey for the Reds since returning to Australian shores.

But O’Connor is another player with a point to prove in 2023, as he looks to work his way back into national selection ahead of the World Cup.

O’Connor only started one Test match this year in the 10 jersey, and came off the bench in two others.

But the 32-year-old was dropped from the Wallabies squad following their disastrous loss to Argentina in Mendoza.

 

Lachlan Swinton (Back row)

Swinton didn’t play any Test matches this year; in fact, he hasn’t played since the opening round of Super Rugby Pacific.

Considering the aforementioned depth that the Wallabies have in the back row, Swinton is in a real race to make the World Cup squad.

Swinton has shown in the past how effective and destructive he can be in the gold jersey, but he’ll have to prove himself with the Tahs next year if he wants another chance before the Cup.

 

Noah Lolesio (Flyhalf)

Since making his international debut, Lolesio hasn’t really let his teammates down. In fact, the rising star has led the Wallabies to famous wins over some of the best teams in the world.

Lolesio started six matches at flyhalf for the Wallabies this year, but the question has to be asked: why didn’t he start more?

Quade Cooper was out injured and James O’Connor was dropped, but Lolesio still wasn’t given the opportunity to make the No. 10 jersey his own.

Many believe that the star pivot will enjoy a long and decorated career in the gold jersey, but maybe he’s not quite ready to carry the responsibility of leading Australia in big Test matches.

 

Suliasi Vunivalu (Wing)

Vunivalu made his international debut earlier this year but he simply struggled to make his mark.

The former NRL winger played some valuable minutes for Australia A as well, but appears to be at long odds to make the World Cup squad.

But let’s not forget who we’re talking about here.

Vunivalu showed during his time with the Melbourne Storm how lethal his try-scoring ability is, and if he get that to click with the Reds next season then anything is possible.

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