Jake Gordon can lean on just one game of captaincy experience after taking over the leadership of a NSW Waratahs squad banking on youthful talent to offset big losses.
The Wallabies halfback will skipper a squad stripped of experience and its usual star power, with Michael Hooper’s Japanese club deal ruling him out for the entire Super Rugby season and leaving them without a single member of their 2014 title-winning side.
Last year’s captain Rob Simmons (London Irish) has joined Kurtley Beale (France’s Racing 92) in Europe, while the Waratahs chose not to extend tri-code veteran Karmichael Hunt’s contract.
Hunt’s departure was a call coach Rob Penney described as “heart-tearingly” tough, but a nod to their regeneration efforts.
It’s left 27-year-old Gordon, who boasts 55 Waratahs caps, five Wallabies appearances and one game as captain at second-tier NRC level two years ago, in charge.
Last year’s finalists Queensland Reds and the Brumbies enter Super Rugby AU largely unchanged – the Reds welcoming NRL star winger Suliasi Vunivalu to an all-star backline – while the Western Force have been bolstered by high-profile domestic and international additions.
Asked why the Waratahs shouldn’t be written off as easy-beats this season, Gordon was happy to oblige.
“Last time you guys wrote us off, when we played the Reds we won 45-12,” he quipped of their record hammering of Queensland at the SCG, in which Gordon scored three times.
“To be honest I don’t really care; we have a great bunch of young guys with extreme amounts of talent.
“I know we’ve lost a lot of maturity in Simmons and Hooper … but we’ll be an exciting team.
“The guys like Angus Bell, Lachie Swinton, Will Harrison, James Ramm; they’ve been exceptional at training and I’m expecting big things from them this year.”
Coach Rob Penney expects his squad to rally behind a man he thought was the obvious choice to lead, despite his lack of captaincy experience.
“He’s a true-blue Tah and underpinning it all is his outstanding character; people warm to him and embrace (him) and he’s a fierce competitor,” he said.
Penney expects progression from a Waratahs side that finished the domestic tournament with a 4-4 record.
And he is mindful of putting on a show as domestic rugby is shown on free-to-air for the first time on Channel Nine.
“Playing attractive rugby and winning aren’t mutually exclusive,” he said.
“(But) we can’t be stodgy and set piece-driven all the time; we’ve got to be able to show rugby is a beautiful game when it’s played quickly, but still retain the essence of the brutality of the defence, collision and the breakdown.”