Stan Sport rugby commentator Phil Prior has high hopes Australian rugby can rebuild well under Eddie Jones. Here’s who he’s identified as the Wallabies’ breakout candidates across the next 12 months.
For Australia to match it with the top of tier one, it’ll take more than a sprinkling of Eddie Jones magic dust.
The Wallabies are chasing heavy duty silverware in its 2023 campaign; Having missed out on the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, the remaining silverware they’re eying off is ‘Bill’ – the Webb Ellis Cup – at the Rugby World Cup.
Jones will need a lot to go right, after an indifferent – and winless – start to his second reign. He’ll need veterans like James Slipper and Nic White to hold their own and lead from the front, he’ll need guns like Rob Valetini, Will Skelton and Marika Koroibete consistently being amongst the best five players on the ground.
And Eddie Jones will need some emerging talent to take a big step forward; Australia is after some breakout campaigns from players on the fringes.
So let’s zoom in on that last point, the most exciting element of the Australia’s recipe for success. Let’s identify the Wallabies breakout candidates.
After initially pointing out four Wallabies breakout candidates, we’ve added a couple more to our list, after their inclusion in Jones’ surprising final squad announcement. We’ll start with the new additions.
Carter Gordon (new addition)
Carter Gordon wasn’t initially in Wallabies breakout consideration because many people made the assumption it was a learning year for the play-maker; that he’d only be used sparingly. But how quickly that changed.
Gordon emerged during the 2023 Super Rugby season with the Melbourne Rebels, quickly catching national attention. He did enough to earn a look in Australia’s broader squad ahead of the Rugby Championship, before quickly overtaking Quade Cooper on the depth chart. Few saw that coming.
Gordon is the only specialist 10 that’s flown to France, with utility Ben Donaldson also an option if called upon. He’s set for major game time.
The Queensland native will turn 23 in January, meaning he’s got the opportunity to secure the fabled role for many years to come. And in brief opportunities so far, against top quality opposition, he’s shown the poise and mettle required.
Carter Gordon is of the Stephen Larkham mould; a decisive decision-maker that takes the ball to the line.
Angus Bell (new addition)
Injury concerns meant Bell wasn’t on our radar as a guy that would play tonnes of Test rugby this calendar year. But that’s changed pretty quickly, as he found his range across the Rugby Championship.
Bell’s dealt with a toe injury for the best part of a year now; it plagued his 2022 campaign and then it flared up in the Super Rugby season-opener against the Brumbies this year. He spent the rest of the Super season back in the rehab group. But let’s hope all that’s now behind him.
The Waratahs loosehead prop is an enormous human, at 125 kilos and 192cm. And blokes that big are not supposed to be able to move as slick and smooth as he does.
He’s logged 16 caps for the Wallabies and looms as an utterly crucial x-factor for the side in France. The son of a gun (father Mark Bell was Wallaby #729) has a very damaging running game and is a net positive at the scrum against almost any opposition front row.
Age: 24 | 102kg | Reds | Position: Openside Flanker
Don’t be shocked if and when Queensland Red Fraser McReight is named the Wallabies’ starting seven, ahead of co-captain Michael Hooper. He’s up to nearly 60 Super Rugby games and is ready to fill the enormous shoes left by some of the true greats that have previously donned Australia’s famed 7 jersey.
McReight has laid the national duty foundations the last few seasons, compiling 10 caps in what’s been a patient progression plan. And his Super Rugby form warrants selection in the starting side.
Hooper is close to the end and it’s feasible he’s used as a finisher, not a starter; the Wallabies will undoubtedly need cool heads and experience in the final quarter of Tests throughout the campaign. Eddie Jones may opt to synchronise the involvement of his two co-captains; start James Slipper and close with Hooper.
McReight’s fearlessness and work-rate will help lead his side to winnable positions.
Australia has produced some of the best flankers to ever grace world rugby and while he doesn’t have the George Smith/Hooper body type, McReight is yet another very promising breakaway talent. 2023 could be his launch.
Age: 23 in September | 102kg | Waratahs | Position: Wing
Mark’s that guy with the near-impossibly hard to pronounce surname, nicknamed “Marky Mark’… because that’s a little easier to say.
For those willing to have a crack, it’s kind of pronounced:
But don’t let his name distract from the fact that Nawaqanitawase can seriously play. The Waratahs outside back would be best suited on a Wallabies wing, utilising his elite pace, power and athleticism.
The Sydney product is of mixed Fijian heritage and burst onto the professional scene in 2022, culminating in three Test opportunities on the Spring Tour, debuting against Italy.
Nawaqanitawase has the safe hands and nous to develop into a top-level fullback option, too. But the finishing qualities and blindside line running off set plays should be more than enough of a taste for fans this year.
Age: 24 in October | 205cm, 118kg | Brumbies | Position: Lock
Brumbies second rower is similar to McReight in age and Test experience; entering the 2023 Rugby Championship, Frost has nine caps, versus Fraser’s 10.
Frost will be in the mix to start games throughout the international season, after debuting against England in 2022. His maiden Test campaign resulted in being awarded the Rugby Australia Rookie of the Year.
Like Nawaqanitawase, Frost is a Sydney product and known for his supreme athleticism.
Part of Frost’s pre-Brumbies development actually took place in Canterbury with the Crusaders, an unorthodox move after he finished high school. But there’s little doubt it’s paying off.
His more decision to stay in the Australian rugby ecosystem, signed until the end of 2025, should bare fruit over the coming months. There’s ‘Wallabies breakout’ written all over his profile, so to speak.
Age: 23 in January | 199cm, 122kg | Brumbies | Position: Backrow
The youngest name on this list, Hooper looks set to feature heavily in Eddie Jones’ forward rotation throughout the 2023 season. He will start some games, most likely at blindside, and look to provide forceful impact off the bench in other games.
It was a delayed start to Tom’s 2023 campaign, with a foot injury keeping him out until Round 10 of the Super Rugby Pacific season.
Hooper is yet to make his Wallabies debut, but offers utility value that will be of even more significance in a World Cup squad where player count is under strict limitations.