The Australian Universities Rugby League team will be short of firepower up front for Thursday’s Test against New Zealand Universities in Christchurch with first-choice props Jack Burke and Ethan Price both ruled out through injury.
Burke (knee) and Price (hamstring) both sustained their injuries in the team’s warm-up game on Sunday which has reduced the touring party to 17 fit players ahead of two Tests in the space of four days.
It’s another challenge to a squad that didn’t gather together until their arrival in New Zealand last Friday but hooker Chris Otswald is confident the likes of Seamus Leyland and Nick Timm will make the most of their opportunity in the starting team.
“Two of the big boys have gone down but I’m sure the boys will come together,” Otswald told NRL.com.
“There are a lot of boys ready to make a name for themselves and step up to the plate. We’ve got plenty of forwards so hopefully we can utilise them and go at the halves a bit more for them.
“We know that the Kiwis are always going to be big through the middle and have one or two x-factors in the halves so if we can just prepare for a big game and a very physical game hopefully we can complete a bit more and I’m confident we can get the job done.”
A horrendous completion rate in their warm-up game could be blamed on a lack of cohesion as players from New South Wales and Queensland tried to form combinations in just a handful of training sessions.
Since arriving in New Zealand they have participated in team activities such as ten-pin bowling and a night out at the movies to see Legend in order to break down any state divide, and the hooker from Gayndah in Queensland’s Wide Bay region believes they have overcome their first game “jitters”.
“We were still a bit Queensland and New South Wales and not Australia but I think we’ve overcome that now and we’re ready to go for the second game,” said Otswald, a former Broncos under-20s player who is eyeing off an Intrust Super Cup spot with Easts Tigers next season.
“Everyone had a bit of first-game jitters and everyone was still playing for positions so trying to do a little bit themselves whereas we need to come together a bit more as a team.
“We’ve got a different halves combination as well as a different fullback and forward combinations but now it’s starting to run pretty smoothly.”
Otswald will have an interesting personal battle of his own with former Kiwi and Tonga Test representative Tevita Latu named in the New Zealand squad.
Latu had stints with the Warriors and Cronulla in the NRL before playing five seasons with Wakefield Trinity in the UK Super League and is now back in New Zealand studying for a Bachelor of Creative Enterprise degree at the Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland
Of course, rugby league talent is not the only attribute you need to play for the Australian Universities team with Otswald currently studying Secondary Education at the Queensland University of Technology, majoring in Physical Education and Junior Science.
He will head into a high school for his first practical assignment early next year but for now Otswald is concentrating solely on teaching the Kiwis a thing or two about rugby league.
The second Test of the two-match series will be played in Greymouth on Sunday.
Australian Universities: 1. Mitch Lollback, 2. Allan Newton, 3. Michael Pearsell, 4. Mick O’Keefe, 5. Travis Drury, 6. Taylor Bennett, 7. Mitch Wilson (c), 8. Seamus Leyland, 9. Chris Otswald, 10. Nick Timm, 11. Dayne Horne, 12. Sam Harrold, 13. Kelly Benson (c). Reserves: 14. Daniel Vasek, 15. Lane Ferling, 16. Jake McManus, 17. Alex Wharton. Coach: Mark Gliddon.
NZ Universities squad: John Aranga, James Baxendale, Sam Hedges, Sam Ihahihifo, Theo Lalakai, Tevita Latu, Phil Nati, Isaac Robinson, Erwin Sauni, Mona Sio, Matiu Stone-Dunn, Zion Tasese, Francis Toetu, Francis Tuiletufuga, Kim Uasi, Jason Whareaitu, Chase Williams. Coach: Kenny O’Brien (Wellington). Assistant coach: Tea Ropati (Auckland).