The Waratahs enter this Friday's clash with the Fijian Drua with an extra spring in their step after Wallabies captain Michael Hooper was named to make his return.
Hooper will come off the bench at CBUS Super Stadium for his first appearance since 2020, returning from a sabbatical and a foot injury.
The World Rugby Player of the Year nominee has been back training for nearly a fortnight, with his teammates noticing a lift in intensity and professionalism.
“He’s world-class. He came in for his first session and for whatever reason, I got emailed to go have a look to see if he was doing things right and I felt like I needed to take a note pad to learn off him,” forwards coach Pauli Taumoepeau said.
“He’s just a world-class player. How he prepares, executes his skill is a genuine pleasure to watch. I stood there smiling, it’s easy to see why he is a top-class player.
“He has a standard that he lives by and he doesn’t drop, so everyone goes ‘we have to lift.’
“He’s been awesome and fantastic to watch from this side of the fence but I don’t think we’re going to see anything new or different from him on-field, he’s that guy who keeps swinging and goes. I think we just come to expect that from the evidence he shows so I’m really excited to have him a part of the team and it’s a massive honour and privilege to be involved with him.”
This has Fijian Drua coach Mick Byrne on edge, well aware of what Hooper can bring after working with him in the national set up.
“He could’ve waited one more week, Hoops, it would have done us the world of favours," joked Byrne.
"He’ll add leadership and work ethic and he’ll be a real add-on for them.
"He’ll be fresh and firing and I expect he’ll be a bit of a menace for us and we’ll just have to be on our game.”
The Waratahs also welcome back Angus Bell (back), Izaia Perese (COVID) and Rahboni Warren Vosayaco (hip) for what's being considered a must-win game if they wish to play finals.
“I’m excited for it. Obviously, we’ve got two must-win games against the Fijians and the Force. I think we’ve been building nicely over the past six rounds and it’s now time to show our strengths,” backrower Will Harris added.
“We need to win these two games to put ourselves with a good chance of making that top eight at the business end of the year.”