Five Wallabies bolters in Cheika’s sights
WHAT selection surprises will Michael Cheika spring on May 30 when he names his Wallabies squad to play Ireland?
Will he continue to give emerging players opportunities or start settling on combinations?
After all, the Rugby World Cup is only 16 months away and there are just 17 Tests between now and the Wallabies' first group match in Japan.
Since the 2015 World Cup, Cheika has used 65 players - of which 27 he has handed their debuts.
So who are the bolters that could emerge in June or further down the road in 2018?
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar won't be the only one tearing his hair out after Valetini was injured in their loss against the Lions in Johannesburg at the weekend.
Cheika will be too, after watching the teenage back-rower limp off late with yet another knee problem.
Valetini had only just returned to Super Rugby action the week before against the Rebels and was a standout in his first match since injuring his knee in their round one win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
He might be fresh faced, but the powerful 19-year-old has a massive future in the game and, if fit, would almost certainly have been picked in the squad.
Cheika dropped Valetini's name during his recent appearance on Kick & Chase.
After being taken on the Spring Tour last year, Maddocks is destined to be picked in June and could well make his debut, likely off the bench.
Maddocks has been a regular in Dave Wessels' Rebels side in 2018 and has been deployed both on the wing and at fullback.
Long-term he is being viewed as a future Test five-eighth in the mould of Wallabies backs coach Stephen Larkham, who also started his illustrious career at fullback before switching to No 10.
But for now, he's learning the ropes from the back.He's by no means the complete package yet.
Defensively he's been bumped away on a few occasions, while his kicking game and decision making is being tested too.
But there's no doubting his ability and his versatility is a major plus.
Cheika has seldom strayed from using Will Genia and Nick Phipps as his Test halfbacks.
Because underneath those two names there's a gulf in class.
Jake Gordon, Joe Powell, Michael Ruru and Moses Sorovi each have aspects in their game that make them appealing, but none of them, at this point, have that 'wow' factor.
But one player on the rise with that exciting X factor is Reds halfback Tate McDermott.
As it stands the 19-year-old won't be available for the June series - after being named in Australia's under-20 World Cup squad - but he's certainly one to watch.
He has looked a bit anxious in his Reds cameos so far but those nerves will pass in time.
What McDermott has that others don't is genuine speed.
He showed that against the junior All Blacks earlier this month, sprinting away from a lineout to score.
Did I mention he's also played sevens for Australia?
Watch this space.
Injuries to Valetini, Jack Dempsey and Ned Hanigan could see Timu given an opportunity for the Wallabies in June.
The Wallabies have long needed ballrunners to power them over the advantage line.
They found a couple in Dempsey and Sean McMahon, but both will be unavailable in June.
Up until his injury against the Lions, Timu had been one of the Reds' best in 2018.
The former Brisbane Bronco's early season form came off the back of a successful NRC campaign.
But the big questions are whether he'd be able to have the same impact at Test level where defences are better and time and space is at a premium.
With David Pocock and Michael Hooper certainties for the Wallabies, a back-row also featuring Timu would be on the small side.
Timu can be used as a third lineout jumper, but he needs to start to use more footwork in attack.
The Reds left Tokyo a little over a week ago a dispirited bunch after being embarrassed against the Sunwolves.
But one player who could hold his head high was Petaia, who in April became the youngest debutant in Reds history after coming on as a replacement against the Brumbies.
The teenager, who turned 18 in March, has made a quite stunning start to his career out wide.
His entrance to Super Rugby has been seamless.
Petaia is genuinely fast and showed his finishing ability against the Hurricanes as he supported Taniela Tupou's bullocking run down the touchline with ease (watch the video above).
The Reds youngster is a longshot to feature against Ireland, but by year's end he could well have landed a development spot on Cheika's end of season spring tour.