Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has confirmed his three Giteau Law picks for the upcoming series with England, while also indicating some players may miss out on his 35-man squad on Sunday with an eye on getting them game time in the Australia A program instead.
Rennie was on hand as the opening fixtures of Sydney's new Allianz Stadium were unveiled, with the Wallabies to host the Springboks in the first international event at the venue, the day after the Round 25 Roosters-Rabbitohs NRL clash officially cuts the ribbon.
While the world champion Springboks will make it a wonderful first Test at Allianz Stadium, Rennie has a more immediate opposition to focus on in Eddie Jones' England. With it already the worst kept rugby secret in the country, the Australia coach confirmed his overseas picks on Sunday would indeed be Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete.
"It's probably not that secret anyway," Rennie said after a long pause considering whether he was going to make it official. "But we've certainly got Quade, Samu and Marika all coming back; Quade and Samu are actually here in Sydney today for their medical checks, Marika's headed straight to Fiji to spend a bit of time with his family and he'll be back on the weekend."
After their performances in 2021, Rennie said the decision had been pretty straightforward, albeit one that now falls within the updated "Overseas Player Selection Policy" which limits him to three picks per series or tournament, whereas last year it had been more malleable amid the COVID pandemic and resulting border issues.
"It's exciting, if you saw the [Japan League One] final with Panasonic, Marika was phenomenal and he certainly hasn't lost any of his physicality or his work ethic so we're excited to have him back.
"You look at Quade having a massive impact and just a really calming influence, and he was so impressive within the group. I thought he was great with Noah [Lolesio], and even when Noah was playing and Quade wasn't, his contribution at meetings was great, he sat down on the computer next to Noah and talked through a lot of things, so his contribution was excellent.
"Samu only played a handful of Tests and was nominated for [World Rugby] player of the year, which just highlights the impact that he had and Marika is one of the best wingers in the world. I'm not sure if there is another winger with his repeat ability and his work ethic, he's just top gear all day. So we're looking forward to getting them [all] back."
Rennie also confirmed he had no qualms about Cooper's lack of top-level rugby, given he had again been playing in Japan's League Two with Kintetsu Liners.
"He's very disciplined and he keeps himself in great nick, but no we're really comfortable, we've watched his footage," he said. "He missed a little bit of footy with a crook thumb but came back and played the last couple of games for them and went really well. So we're really comfortable."
As excitement builds ahead of the first Wallabies squad proper of 2022, with players to learn on Sunday whether they have made the cut to face England, the rebirth of the Australia A program will give those who miss out an opportunity to contest the Pacific Nations Cup in Fiji.
In what will be invaluable experience at a level beyond Super Rugby Pacific, those selected for Australia A will face each of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji in consecutive weeks. And Rennie indicated that there may be a situation when a player who would have previously been selected within the Wallabies squad, but potentially not have played, may instead be named in the A squad this time around.
"We're going to pick 35 in our squad, there'll be 30 in the Australian A side," Rennie said. "That's come into our thinking, there might be the odd guy who we think might be better served with three games at another level higher than Super Rugby, rather than maybe sitting in the background and not getting an opportunity against England.
"And then there's the option, if we feel that some guys need some footy who are in our squad, to maybe send them to Fiji potentially for the third Test to get some rugby."
On the injury front, Taniela Tupou is on track to play in the first Test against England despite missing the Reds' final five games of the season with a calf complaint. Rennie said the powerhouse prop had been working really hard under the guise of the Wallabies medical team and was in a really good space mentally.
The back-row, meanwhile, will be one of the most intriguing positional groups when the Wallabies squad is unveiled.
Thrilled with the depth Australia had built over the past two seasons, Rennie said he had not totally abandoned a combination that would see Rob Valetini and Harry Wilson combine in the same trio and gave a huge clue that reborn Waratahs flanker Jed Holloway's versatility has seen him win a place in the 35-man group.
"Yep, that's a possibility," Rennie replied when asked about a Valetini-Wilson combo. "We've got Rob Leota who finished the  season with us and he's been excellent.
"We've got Jed Holloway who's predominantly played lock, and he could play lock for us, but he's a genuine 6 option, he's got a really good skill set and that sort of thing, so he'll push close.
"So we've got some genuine competition for places there... Jed's played a lot of lock for the Waratahs, basically all season. But he's certainly got the skill set to play 6 and 8, so from that perspective it gives us flexibility."