Waratahs wary of Rona's power
RUGBY UNION: The Waratahs are coy about whether they'll target Western Force code-hopper Curtis Rona when the former NRL back lines up against Tahs rival Israel Folau in the season opener tonight.
Rona, who switched back to rugby from the Bulldogs over summer, was named to make his Super Rugby debut in an exciting Force backline that includes Wallabies Dane Haylett-Petty and Luke Morahan, new recruit Billy Meakes and seasoned pivot Jono Lance.
The Waratahs suffered a blow when Bernard Foley was ruled out of the round one clash due to ongoing concussion symptoms.
Foley was replaced by Bryce Hegarty, the former Rebels five-eighth who has been strong in the Waratahs' trial games.
The clash of Rona and Folau is a potentially mouth-watering duel, with the pair both routinely found near the top of the NRL leading tryscorers list in their former lives.
Folau has settled into life at outside centre and will team up with exciting youngster Irae Simone for the Tahs tonight.
Rona played in the Force's academy as a youngster before switching to league and playing on the wing for the Cowboys and the Dogs.
Force coach Dave Wessels recruited the Kiwi-born 24-year-old back to Perth and the 15-man game.
"Although he is coming out of league, he does have a union background," Wessels said. "So it's not all totally foreign to him. He has settled in very well.
"He is a very big back and that adds to guys like Dane (Haylett-Petty) and Moz (Luke Morahan).
"He adds strikepower and an ability to beat someone one-on-one."
The Force has indicated it's keen to add more adventure to its attack this year and judging from Rona's form in the trials and the Brisbane Tens, the 104kg centre will be a central figure.
"They're going to have a crack I think and that's going to be great for the fans," Waratahs fullback Andrew Kellaway said.
"You have a guy like Curtis Rona coming from rugby league and it'll be great to see what he does. He's up against Izzy and if the rain stays away it'll make for a good game of footy.
"There are some seriously class footballers in that backline - Jono Lance, Bill Meakes, Dane Haylett-Petty and Luke Morahan - four pretty handy footballers. And obviously Curtis has proved himself in rugby league and Chance (Peni) as well. So it will be awesome hit-out."
Questioned as to whether the Waratahs may look exploit Rona's inexperience defending at No.13 in top-flight rugby, Kellaway said, "You always look for stuff like that, but we will be looking to play our style and do that well. If he happens to be where we are targeting, then so be it."
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson admitted losing Foley, the Wallabies No.10, on the eve of Super Rugby's opening round was not ideal but nobody was panicking with Hegarty in reserve.
The 24-year-old, who played 33 games for the Rebels, was recruited last year as an understudy for Foley but blew a knee after two games.
The Waratahs also lost Ned Hanigan (knee), with Dave McDuking on the bench.