Michael Cheika says he wouldn’t be surprised to see a sixth Australian team introduced, more crossover between league and rugby players in the future, and believes the Waratahs and Wallabies are on right track heading in 2021 despite indifferent seasons last year.
Since his departure as Wallabies coach after the 2019 World Cup, Cheika has kept busy but largely out of the spotlight.
Michael Cheika’s final two years as Wallabies coach were disappointing.Credit:Getty
He says a 12-week domestic competition, with five teams, is far more beneficial for a national coach who can see local players pitted against one another more often.
Every week is effectively a Wallabies audition, and Cheika says adding a sixth team wouldn’t be farfetched if a similar model is explored in the future.
“I’m very pro the Australian tournament and have been for many years,” Cheika said. “Our own competition gives us a bit more pride about the games we’re playing here. I think it’s great the Western Force are back in and playing. They did a really amazing job last year and I’m not just spinning it because I really think they came back in and they were competitive in all the games.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another Australian team soon. I know we’re talking about going less, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another in years to come. Then you could have three games every week and that leads into a bigger tournament with the New Zealand teams. The world has gone a bit flatter, so everything is on the table.
“It’s a great way for the national coach to be able to see his competition players against each other week in, week out. It gives you a bit more control. It gives our lads a bit more swagger when they’re playing against each other.”
Wallabies in 2020
For the first time since 2013, Cheika watched the Wallabies from afar last year. The side, now under Kiwi Dave Rennie, managed one win from six outings but that could very easily have been four victories had Reece Hodge nailed late penalty kicks in Wellington, Newcastle and Sydney.
“Three draws in a season is pretty crazy,” Cheika said. “You go one point more in each of those games and you’ve got three wins. The tally looks pretty good at that point. It was tight going in very difficult circumstances.
“One thing is that every time Australia players play in a Wallabies jersey, they will be trying their hardest and their best. Hopefully all the games go ahead and they can take another step forward. It was really their first year together and it was pretty interrupted.”
Waratahs on the up
Cheika is surprised when told not a single player from his 2014 title-winning Waratahs team remains at NSW. He believes the side, whilst inexperienced and without many Wallabies, has the foundations to be a successful team.
Provided they find a style that resonates with fans, Cheika can’t see why they won’t succeed.
“Losing that type of firepower is pretty hard to deal with. Top players are really instrumental,” Cheika said. “But there is a young crew of players coming up and I’ve got a lot of faith in Chris Whitaker and those guys to give them a background in what it’s about to play for the team.
Kurtley Beale and Michael Cheika during the title-winning 2014 Super Rugby season. Credit:Daniel Munoz
“One thing I learnt at NSW, is you compete how your fans want you to. Year two we won it, but in the first year  we didn’t make the finals. But fans were still into it because we had a red hot go and players put everything in and fought for everything.
“The talent is there. They had that big win against Queensland last year. It takes a while to get consistent. I’m sure they will build nicely throughout the year. If you look at the circumstances, they’re going to have a young team, they’re going to have relative inexperience, but that’s a great opportunity to start something new.
“[Captain] Jake [Gordon] is a good solid character. I think he’ll take them in a good direction. They’ll only be without Hoops [Michael Hooper] for this year. If you build a good platform this year, get a few players back next year, you’re on.
“Get the kids enjoying it and a style the fans identify with.”
The code wars
For the first time – outside of World Cups – both codes will be shown live on the same free-to-air network.
Cheika, who grew up with the 13-man game and has never been afraid to seek advice from league coaches, thinks both will be good for the other.
“Having them in the one stable at Nine, I think that’s going to breed a lot more crossover,” Cheika said. “Would you have thought I’d be coaching a Lebanese rugby league team when I was at the Rugby World Cup a few years ago? It’s about challenging yourself. I think it’ll happen with players too. The girls are doing it.”
Cheika keeps a close eye on Roosters training in Barcelona as the premiers prepared for the World Club Challenge.Credit:Roosters Digital
Is a hybrid game or series a bridge too far?
“Eventually that will happen because the interest will be too much for them not to happen,” Cheika said. “They won’t be regular events I don’t think … but every now and then they’ll pop up on the radar. I think they’ll be extremely interesting to supporters, players, coaches and media.”
Cheika has been around since rugby game went professional in 1996 and is motivated to improve the health of the code, which few can argue has deteriorated since the Wallabies struggled to win back the Bledisloe Cup.
The good vibes of the 2015 World Cup, where the Wallabies made the final before falling to New Zealand, quickly diminished following a 3-0 defeat to England the following year.
Cheika knows there are avid rugby supporters out there and wants them to get re-engaged.
“I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say this but I thought Foxtel did a great job when they were covering the game over many years and gave it a platform,” Cheika said. “But now I think it’s a great opportunity for the game to move forward and have a different feel and look about it as a whole.
“I have no background in NFL but I enjoy listening to the tactical side of what they’re explaining to me and I enjoy listening to the game and the characters inside of the game. It’s simple. It’s not complicated. We don’t have to judge anybody. I want to explain the game better and create an understanding of the game in an entertaining way.”
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