Wallabies team-mates tip Petaia for greatness

He may be only 19, and have started just two games, but the Australian camp is adamant: the tyro full-back is the real deal.

OITA, 18 Oct - The selection of 19-year-old Jordan Petaia to start at outside-centre in Australia's quarter-final against England has caused a maelstrom of excited chatter from fans, ex-players and journalists, but within the Wallabies camp there is not a shred of doubt that head coach Michael Cheika has made the right call. 

Within the space of 10 minutes on Thursday afternoon, 109-cap veteran Will Genia was saying the teenager could soon be "one of the best players in the world", and centre partner Samu Kerevi revealed he believed Petaia (the pair are pictured above) would be "one of the greats" from the moment he first saw him training with Queensland Reds in 2017.

And that is all before you hear Cheika's assessment of what is undoubtedly the wild-card selection of the tournament so far. 

"I trust him infinitely and that's why he's been chosen," the Wallabies coach said. "Yes, it's going to be fast and aggressive and all that type of stuff and I know that lad will rise up to that challenge. I know it. I've seen it in him, so I know he will on Saturday."

It may sound like a lot of pressure for a guy who has played just 40 minutes against Uruguay and 57 minutes against Georgia in the green and gold. But no one seems at all concerned about that, least of all Petaia himself, who was laughing and joking as he strolled off the training pitch on Thursday.   

"The way his demeanour is, you wouldn't think he was picked, he was just loping around as per normal so it's going to be great," Cheika said. "I don't know how he's feeling but he's looking good as gold. He's as happy as Larry, like he always is. He doesn't give away too much. He just cruises around and he's been excellent in training."

While Petaia was particularly impressive from the left wing against Uruguay, scoring a try and setting up another in the first half, outside-centre is his preferred spot. And for Matt To'omua, who has known Petaia since he was a toddler, it is here the world will see the best of his young friend.

"I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, he gets excited both sides of the ball, which is unique for a young guy," To'omua said. "(He) loves defence and loves attack, loves the rough stuff."

Appreciation of the 1.91m tall, 102kg teenager's surprising physicality is universal. It was part of the reason why so many seasoned observers sat up in astonishment at Petaia's performance for the Reds against the Highlanders in the second round of Super Rugby 2019.

"If somebody said he'd be starting at the World Cup in a quarter-final after his game against the Highlanders, I think a lot of people would have believed you but probably would have suggested it would have gone a different route," said To'omua, referring to the way Petaia has had to battle back from injury after injury following that explosive performance.

The man on his inside, statistically the best performing centre of RWC 2019, even reckons his job is a simple one this weekend.

"For me, (it's) just wanting to get that ball in his hands a bit earlier and letting him go, letting him do his thing," Kerevi said. "That's what we've wanted him to do from his debut, give him ball with a lot of time."

RNS ln/co/sw