Talented youngsters Matt Lucas, Sam Lane, Jed Holloway and Luke Holmes have joined the HSBC Waratahs for next season. The quartet have snapped up four of the five Extended Playing Squad spots for next season, leaving just two places in the NSW roster for next year still to be filled, with one EPS and one full squad vacancy still remaining.
In recognition of the quality and quantity of young talent coming through the Sydney club ranks, HSBC Waratahs new head coach Michael Cheika will hold a rugby talent quest to fill the remaining place by inviting three Shute Shield stars to join the squad for training, before picking one of them to join on a full time basis at the end of October.
Of those already signed, three of the newcomers have been using this week to get to know the set up, as well as getting in some early gym and fitness sessions ahead of the start of the squad’s full pre-season training program on Monday. Currently on Sevens duty ahead of this weekend’s Gold Coast tournament, Matt Lucas will join his new team mates next week.
One of the youngest of the quartet, 20-year-old Matt Lucas is the younger brother of Queensland Reds utility back Ben Lucas. A halfback with enormous talent and potential, he earns his place off the back of impressive performances in five legs of the 2011/12 Sevens series, including Tokyo where he was part of the Australian squad that claimed the title, and for his Brisbane club side Sunnybank, Queensland’s 2012 Premiership Grand Finalists.
He joins the squad as the third halfback behind Brendan McKibbin and Grayson Hart, who both finished the 2012 season in strong form.
“I’m extremely excited at the move to New South Wales,” said Lucas. The decision to move to Sydney will see him reunited with former 2009 Australian Schoolboys and 2010 Australian Under-20s team mate Greg Peterson, whom he plans to live with while he settles into life in Sydney, as well as two other former representative team mates, Tom Kingston (Schoolboys) and fellow newcomer Michael Hooper, another member of the Under-20s squad to tour Italy in 2011.
“As the youngest of our three halfbacks within the squad, Matt gives us balance in the position and succession planning for the future as we look to constantly bring new talent through the ranks,” said new head coach Michael Cheika.
Joining the squad from the Queensland Reds is flyhalf Sam Lane, the 21-year-old son of former Wallabies centre and 1999 Rugby World Cup winning assistant coach Tim Lane.
Born in Brisbane, Sam has spent much of his life in Sydney and returns to NSW with two Super Rugby caps under his belt. He made his provincial debut for the Reds against the Brumbies last season after he was signed by Queensland on a short-term contract due to their backline injury crisis. Despite being offered a new contract with the Reds for 2013, Sam’s desire to play for the HSBC Waratahs has led him back to NSW where he will be looking to build on the experience gained last season.
An exciting player full of potential, Sam adds depth to the flyhalf position and will compliment the likes of Berrick Barnes and Bernard Foley. Said Cheika, “Sam has already proven himself at Super Rugby level and clearly has good breeding. What’s most impressive is that he decided to join us instead of taking a full contract with the Reds because this is where he wants to play his rugby and we’re delighted to have him.”
In the forwards, Southern Districts lock Jed Holloway becomes the latest Shute Shield Rookie of the Year to earn a place in the NSW squad. A product of the same Yamba Buccaneers club as 2010 winner Kane Douglas, the 19-year-old is fast building a similar reputation as a strong, ball carrying lock with the ability to play on the blind-side.
Alongside current squad members Sitaleki Timani, Greg Peterson and Douglas, Holloway and fellow newcomer Ollie Atkins provide cover in the second row, following the departure of long-time HSBC Waratah, Dean Mumm.
“Jed is a very impressive young player,” said Cheika. “As a lock or back rower, to be so highly rated at such a young age is a good sign as typically these positions are late bloomers. He’s a country player, full of enthusiasm and like Kane Douglas, Paddy Ryan and Pat McCutcheon, he brings a rawness and freshness to the team that we hope will help rough up the competition in the forward pack.”
The last new face on the block is 28-year-old hooker Luke Holmes. The most experienced of the newcomers, Luke strength in the set piece is complimented by his mobility around the field. Since making his Super Rugby debut in 2006 he has amassed 28 caps, having been a foundation player with both the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels. Born in Sydney, he grew up supporting the NSW Waratahs, hoping to one day pull on the light blue jersey and jumped at the chance to return home to NSW after seven years interstate. A father of two and a long time Warringah Rats player, Luke is also the older brother of former HSBC Waratahs scrum half Josh Holmes.
The third hooker in the squad after Tatafu Polota-Nau and Damien Fitzpatrick, Cheika said, “We’ve tried to get a balance and with Damien already part of the squad and only 23, we felt we could afford to have a more experienced hooker in the EPS.”