The NSW Waratahs are seeking an elusive 80-minute performance as they strive desperately to keep their Super Rugby AU finals hopes flickering on Friday night.
The winless Waratahs head to Melbourne knowing it’s their last roll of the dice, with nothing less than victory over the Rebels required to stay in the title hunt.
It may seem pie-in-the-sky stuff for fans who witnessed NSW’s record-breaking losses to the Brumbies and Queensland Reds to open the season before becoming the first team to fall to the Western Force since the Perth franchise’s return to Super Rugby.
But winger Jack Maddocks, now arguably the Waratahs’ biggest name following the mass exodus of talent over the past two years, maintains making the playoffs remains “massively” in their sights.
“This is a huge game for us. If we win this, and the Reds win (against the Force), we’re level with the Force and the Rebels again so it will be all in our hands,” Maddocks said on Wednesday.
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“So it does have a big-game feel to it even though it’s early in the season.
“But we know that our chances are sort of running out so it’s a huge game for us and we all know it.”
The Waratahs blew a 13-0 lead last start against the Force and Maddocks said concentration lapses can’t keep happening, especially against a Rebels outfit featuring numerous Wallabies including Reece Hodge, Matt Toomua and in-form winger Marika Koroibete.
“I know we started red hot against the Force. We started well against the Reds as well and then there was 20 minutes there we made a lot of errors and they punished us and before we knew it the game was over,” Maddocks said.
“So those two games we’ve had good patches but we just haven’t been able to put that together for 80 minutes.
“So for us it’s about consistency and patience to stay in the battle.”
Hodge is personally wary of Maddocks, declaring his former Rebels and Wallabies teammate a potential game-breaker for the Tahs.
“He’s obviously a pretty class player as all of our Melbourne fans would have seen with the season he had in 2018 down here,” Hodge said.
“”He’s got explosive pace, kicks off both feet and can beat anyone one on one.
“On his day, he would be one of the best attacking players going around in Australian rugby so between him, James Ramm and Mark Nawaqanitawase they are big attacking threats.
“So we need to make sure our kicking game and also our defence is on to counter them.”
The Rebels have made one forced change to their line-up following the three-week suspension of lock Ross Haylett-Petty, with Steve Cummins coming in.
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Wallabies hooker Jordan Uelese will make his return from hand surgery via the bench with James Hanson starting.
Melbourne are playing their first game back at AAMI Park in 377 days, forced on the road last year and then preseason due to COVID-19 restrictions.
After disappointment against the Rebels, the Force host a buoyant Reds outfit who last round served up the Brumbies’ first defeat.
Former Wallabies lock Sitaleki Timani will make his first starting appearance while prop Greg Holmes, in his 150th Super Rugby match, has replaced Santiago Medrano.
Samoan World Cup international Henry Taefu is the new inside centre.
Ilaisa Droasese comes in for Test winger Filipo Daugunu in the only change to the Queensland starting side.
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