Reds rookie to solve Wallabies’ hooking woes
ROOKIE Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa has transformed from little-known Sydney club player to likely Wallabies bolter in nine months thanks to the talent-spotting of Brad Thorn.
Saturday's clash against the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium is more than just an ideal night to topple a top Kiwi side because the burly forward can nail a spot in the Wallabies squad with a rousing display.
After more than a decade of riches at hooker, the Wallabies will abruptly discover what life is like without retired skipper Stephen Moore and veteran Tatafu Polota-Nau against Ireland next month.
Polota-Nau has been given the series off, essentially forced rest for his battle-scarred 32-year-old frame in between hectic commitments with English club Leicester and the Wallabies before the World Cup next year.
Just who will wear the No. 2 jersey, and act as the two back-up hookers in the squad, against Ireland's chest-beating front-row is the tricky question that Wallabies coach Michael Cheka must answer.
Young gun Jordan Uelese made such an impression as last year's bolter that the jersey was being measured for him.
His injury-disrupted season with a torn bicep is only likely to resume off the bench for the Melbourne Rebels on Friday night.
It still gives him a shot at match fitness before the June 9 Test in Brisbane but what do we make of mobile Rebel Anaru Rangi, Waratah Tolu Latu and novice Brumby Folau Faingaa as other contenders?
Latu is the most seasoned, Uelese has huge potential and the hooker ticking all the right boxes is Paenga-Amosa, 22, because his strengths start where Cheka needs him most.
He was a commanding scrummaging presence when the Reds dominated powerhouse Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx and his Lions scrum in April and has consistently stepped up in that area.
Most freshmen hookers earn "Lightning" as a first nickname because no lineout throw strikes in the same place twice.
Paenga-Amosa has been spot-on in this department with a Reds' lineout humming at 86 per cent efficiency this season and that's apart from the way he throws around his 117kg frame with strong ball carries and a deft pass or two.
You have to love Thorn's checklist of priorities.
When this journalist excitedly noted that Thorn must have been impressed with Paenga-Amosa's hat-trick of tries in a game for NSW Country last year, Thorn deadpanned: "What tries?"
Thorn only saw a big lump of raw material who could scrum, hit like his rugby league upbringing in Sydney suggested, make metres and liven up his hooking options.
Thorn has drummed good habits into the Auckland-born hooker who went to the same Endeavour Sports High in Sydney that called Israel Folau an old boy.
Paenga-Amosa chopped off his unruly mop of hair, thanks to a few Thorn stares, and his game has been sharpened by 11 games to put him in position to be an old-fashioned, longshot Wallaby.
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