Israel Folau sparkles on seasonal debut
February 24, 2014
Israel Folau started the new season with a performance even better than those which earned him Rookie of the Year honours last year, his man-of-the-match effort featuring a hat-trick of tries and dynamic running lines that threatened to dissect Western Force at every opportunity. He will rip apart better teams than Western Force in this campaign, and he deservedly tops the inaugural Greg Growden Medal count after round one of the 2014 Super Rugby competition.
Wycliff Palu showed exactly what the Waratahs have missed all too frequently in his injury-enforced absences, producing a consummate back-rower's performance, while Alofa Alofa and his dancing feet were rewarded for a sparkling debut capped by a try on the stroke of half-time that showed fully the value of a never-say-die kick-chase against lazy defending. Michael Cheika went out of his way post-match to priase Palu - not just for his performance but for "his attitude and leadership - he's very much the spiritual leader of the team and that example is what others feed off".
Kane Douglas and Will Skelton were hugely influential, highly visible in all aspects of their second-row play as the Tahs laid down a solid title marker, while Alby Mathewson was Western Force's best with his constant driving of the pack and slick delivery to the backs when he was allowed the ball.
On Saturday, Quade Cooper produced an offensive masterclass while Lachie Turner turned in an effort that some pundits thought might have been beyond him after leaving the Waratahs; the Reds winger showing great pace to score the opening try of the game and making a number of decisive hits in defence, including his wonderful effort to keep Jesse Mogg off the ground when the Brumbies fullback seemed certain to score, and he may yet work his way back into Wallabies contention if he continues to play with such verve. Queensland captain James Horwill also produced a performance that had eluded him after returning from injury last season, while Liam Gill showed the battle for the Wallabies' No.7 jumper is more than a two-way shootout between Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
Join us each week to see Greg's verdict on the Australian players who are / are not performing. We'll respond to all comment and reasoned discussion either in comments at the foot of the story, or on Twitter using the hashtag #GregGrowdenMedal.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton
Cards, kicks, slips and scores: It's The Week in Pictures, the finest snaps from the last seven days of rugby