Everybody loves a selection bolter.
Even a traditionalist such as me can admit that, although they may be down my list as preferred choice, it is exciting seeing a player come from nowhere to earn their countries’ jersey.
However, when Michael Chieka picked Fijian winger Marika Koroibete to tour with the Wallabies off the back of his NRL form, he was not so much rewarding another bolter as much as he was highlighting his biggest problem as coach of Australia.
This is not a commentary on dual internationals, nor code hoppers. Since the birth of professional rugby league, players have hopped the fence, some more successfully than others, and it is now a part of rugby’s zeitgeist.
But this is not that. This is not Israel Folau, Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers or Wendell Sailor, who earned their way to Wallaby gold through successful Super Rugby seasons.
This is Michael Chieka out of ideas, and dragging Koroibete off the field after the NRL Grand Final and onto the plane with his Wallabies.
We’ve certainly seen our fair share of debuts this year – 11, compared to last years’ two.
While most, if not all of those 11 have played up to standard, it is the most debuts handed out since 2013, which yielded a lost British and Irish Lions tour and an overall 7-8 record.
2013 also marked the year before then-head coach Ewen McKenzie resigned, a large part of which had to do with so-so results and the loss of confidence of his players.
This is a pattern we commonly see in most head coaches before they lose their job – ordinary results, buoyed by or possibly causing a series of radical selections, and ultimately, the departure.
Whilst the McKenzie and Chieka situations are not entirely the same, there is plenty of mirroring between the two; an important series loss (B&I Lions and Cook Cup), followed by an ordinary Rugby Championship, followed by goodness knows what on the end of season tour, with plenty of selection questions sprinkled in.
Whilst no one has yet openly questioned the commitment of the squad to their head coach, the seeds are there to believe such things.
The Aussies were terrible in the Cook Cup, and are only just beginning to re-find their feet – if you can call it that.
Just a week away from the commencement of the Spring Tour, and there are plenty around the country wondering how many of the games we will win, when at the start of the year we were pondering a Grand Slam.
It is an extraordinary collapse for a team and head coach that last year almost brought us World Cup glory. But it happens. It doesn’t necessarily make Michael Chieka a bad coach, just not the right coach.
Plucking a man who can barely qualify as Australian from the rival code to potentially make his debut on this end of season tour will always remain a bad idea.
Koroibete may very well play the house down, and it will still be a bad idea. When it comes to selections, the means usually justify the ends, but not this time.
As big a rugby league fan as Chieka may be, and he is a self-professed South Sydney Rabbitohs fan, there is no defending this one.
The man is now firmly out of ideas, and may also be out of time.