The 31: Breaking down Wallabies' World Cup hopefuls

Who will make Australia's final 31-man squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup? Jamie van Leeuwen/ESPN

The ninth edition of the Rugby World Cup is now just six months away.

Attention is quickly turning towards the tournament -- to be held in Japan -- following the conclusion of the Six Nations over the weekend.

For Australia, and its new selection panel of Scott Johnson, Michael O'Connor and coach Michael Cheika, Super Rugby is the focus as they look to bring together a Wallabies squad capable of reaching the same lofty heights from four years ago.

Using the same positional breakdown Cheika applied to his squad 31-man squad in 2015, we review the players who've seemingly booked their tickets for Tokyo, those still in the mix and those that are heading in the wrong direction.


On the plane: Folau Fainga'a

In the mix: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Damian Fitzpatrick, Anaru Rangi, Tatafu Polota-Nau

On the slide: Tolu Latu

Overview: With Folau Fainga'a the only real hooker stepping up and demanding selection with his play thus far, the second spot is wide open. Polota-Nau's return to the Waratahs was halted at two games, after he was called back to Leicester, and at what stage Rebels rake Jordan Uelese suits up again is unknown. Tolu Latu's brainfade against the Sunwolves - and subsequent six-week ban - wasn't unexpected, he has a track record of other idiotic actions. Anaru Rangi may lack size, but he is a fearless ball-runner who must be making the selectors take notice.


On the plane: Scott Sio, Alan Alaalatoa

In the mix: Taniela Tupou, James Slipper, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Jermaine Ainsley, Tetera Faulkner

On the slide: Sekope Kepu

Overview: Has time finally caught up with Sekope Kepu at age 33? The veteran Wallabies prop has had an indifferent start to Super Rugby, mixing a front-rower high 121 run metres with the most turnovers conceded and handling errors (4), and the equal-most penalties conceded (6). He is also the only prop to see yellow this season, but Kepu remains a Cheika favourite and just needs to start holding onto the pill, particularly in critical match moments. Taniela Tupou has had his moments, but the working over he received from the Crusaders front-row was notable.


On the plane: Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda

In the mix: Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway, Harry Hockings, Matt Phillip, Luke Jones, Sam Carter

On the slide: Adam Coleman

Overview: The Wallabies selection panel should be happy with the competition for spots in the second-row, particularly the likes of Jed Holloway, Matt Phillip and Luke Jones from our "in the mix" category. All three players are getting through plenty of work in defence and attack, to go with the standout performers in Izack Rodda [ball-carrying] and Rory Arnold [lineout]. Look for Adam Coleman to work his way back with more game time - he has made just one run in three games - while Rob Simmons remains a Cheika favourite despite being the subject of constant backlash from Australian supporters.


On the plane: Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Isi Naisarani

In the mix: Ned Hanigan, Jack Dempsey, Pete Samu, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valetini, Angus Scott-Young, Lachie McCaffrey

On the slide: Caleb Timu

Overview: Just what the Wallabies want in terms of a blend of back-rowers will play out over the coming months, meaning all those "in the mix" above must continue to perform. But perhaps the biggest question mark lies over David Pocock and just whether he will make it to Japan. That may seem a tad melancholic, but given the No. 7 will miss his third match of the season this weekend, coupled with ongoing neck issues, the need to manage Pocock is clear. Rob Valetini's wretched run with injury has also continued, but it's nothing but good news for Isi Naisarani who continues to impress at the Rebels after an offseason switch from the Brumbies. Lachie McCaffrey wasn't a part of the recent Wallabies camp, but his performances thus far suggest that is a significant oversight.


On the plane: Will Genia

In the mix: Jake Gordon, Joe Powell

On the slide: Nick Phipps

Overview: Cheika had the option of having Matt Giteau cover as the third halfback four years ago, which may yet mean three scrum-halves will be in the squad for Japan. Nick Phipps has some catching up to do after he played his first game of the season off the bench last weekend, while Jake Gordon has certainly made the most of his opportunities thus far. Joe Powell has also been solid for the Brumbies, setting up a genuine contest for the role as Will Genia's deputy. The Rebels halfback has been the standout scrum-half across the entire competition, topping no less than four key attacking stats.


On the plane:

In the mix: Quade Cooper, Christian Leali'ifano

On the slide: Bernard Foley, Hamish Stewart

Overview: We knew Quade Cooper was going to make a splash when he returned, it was just whether he'd sink or swim thereafter. With the Rebels at 3-1, and the mercurial playmaker having been a key cog of each of their three wins so far, Cooper's stocks are rising. But there have also been instances of the classic Cooper brainfade, most notably at the weekend when he failed to touch a ball dead in goal, resulting in a Lions try. Bernard Foley, meanwhile, has been struggling. The Wallabies fly-half from the last World Cup, who turned on one of the great individual performances from an Australia No. 10 at Twickenham against England, appears down on confidence and his form is suffering as a result.


On the plane: Samu Kerevi

In the mix: Billy Meakes, Karmichael Hunt, Kurtley Beale, Matt Toomua*

On the slide:

Overview: Samu Kerevi would just about be the first name on Cheika's teamsheet at the moment after a sparkling first month of Super Rugby. The Reds captain is second only to Ngani Laumape for metres run [404] in the centres, while he tops the charts for carries [49] and tackle busts [22]. While he played the last three games at outside centre, Kerevi was first selected at No.12 so he is part of this group and looks to a better fit there than at 13. With Matt Toomua to come back later in the year and having the versatility to play either 10 or 12, you feel as though there is only one more spot up for grabs.


On the plane: Israel Folau, Tevita Kuridrani,

In the mix: Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty Marika Koroibete, Henry Speight, Curtis Rona, Sefa Naivalu, Chance Peni, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jack Maddocks, Tom English, Reece Hodge

On the slide: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Jordan Petaia.

Overview: With as many as seven spots up for grabs here, and some potential cross-over with the inside backs, you can expect some movement throughout the year. Kuridrani certainly appears to be the standout outside centre candidate while Israel Folau is one big-name Waratahs back who can't be faulted to date. Elsewhere, the wingers have all had their moments, proving their finishing capabilities in particular. Adam Ashley-Cooper's versatility may save him in the long run, but the veteran utility is well down the pecking order after the first month of Super Rugby action. Jordan Petaia produced a scintillating individual game against the Highlanders, only to see his season ended the following week against the Crusaders. A foot fracture has left him with only the Rugby Championship to impress selectors.

After the opening five rounds of Super Rugby, we have printed 12 tickets on QF 25 bound for Tokyo.

Return for the updated list after Round 9 in a month's time.