The Bledisloe Cup is gone for another year, but the Wallabies can open their Rugby Championship account with a win over New Zealand in Perth on Sunday afternoon.
But all the lead-up discussions seem to focus on a couple of surprising recalls; will Samu Kerevi and Quade Cooper be in the Wallabies team named on Friday?
Neither has played in Australia in recent years — Cooper has been playing in Japan since 2019, Kerevi since 2020.
Cooper was recalled by coach Dave Rennie under the current overseas player eligibility allowances, having played 70 Tests, while Kerevi met the Wallabies in Perth having completed quarantine with the Australian Sevens side after their Olympic campaign in Tokyo.
Unlike Cooper, Kerevi has played only half the required 60 Tests to qualify for overseas-based selection. But with a couple of midfield injuries, and Hunter Paisami to miss this weekend’s game with the birth of his child, Rennie received dispensation from Rugby Australia to work around the overseas eligibility allowance.
Rennie had, at the start of the Bledisloe Cup campaign, called on a similar dispensation to include former Queensland Reds midfielder Duncan Paia’aua in the squad.
But with the Bledisloe gone and the third match delayed after New Zealand chose not to board a plane last month, there has been ample time for speculation about the prospects of both Kerevi and Cooper playing this Sunday.
In fairness, Rennie himself has partly fuelled the chatter, lauding Kerevi’s experience and work ethic since joining the Wallabies squad.
“Obviously, he played over [Japanese powerhouse side] Suntory. A good mate of mine, Jason O’Halloran, coaches over there and he gave me some really positive feedback around Samu’s preparation and the detail around him trying to be better each day and we’re seeing it in our squad,” Rennie said late last week.
“I know he’s done a lot of work at Suntory, as well as his kicking game, on his distribution and as we know he can be direct and has an ability to offload beyond the tackler.
Rennie was similarly generous in his praise for Cooper.
“Look, he’s been fantastic in the group,” Rennie said. “Can’t speak highly enough of him.
“He’s been a big contributor to all meetings and discussions and prepared to share his knowledge, and he’s trained really well. His ability for pass selection or kicking options has been spot on and really good from a training perspective for us. He’s pretty much been running the New Zealand plays.
How much pressure though, Cooper himself wasn’t so sure.
If Rennie has been glowing in his public praise of his players, he’s been far less clear which way he’s leaning among the squad themselves and on the training field.
“He keeps everybody on their toes,” Cooper said when asked on Tuesday if he knew if he was playing this weekend.
“When we’re training, the teams are always quite mixed up. You have to look around to see where Hoops [Michael Hooper] or Marika [Koroibete] are and get some indication from that.
“The boys are all fighting for spots. There’s some fantastic players here who have put in a lot of work and a lot of effort to become better players, and they’ve put their hands up for selection.”
Both selections would not be without risk.
For one thing, Kerevi hasn’t played since the Top League Final in Japan in late May, with his most recent outings a couple of cameo Sevens appearances in Tokyo.
His Wallabies knowledge will be limited to two-year-old memories and whatever he’s managed to pick up over the last couple of weeks in camp.
Cooper hasn’t played for longer — his Japanese club side was bundled out of contention in late April — but he has at least been in and around the squad since it came together for the Bledisloe preparations back in late July.
That Rennie has Cooper running the All Blacks plays on the training track suggests he’s clearly got a solid grasp of the opposition, too.
Including them both would be extremely rough on the incumbent players in the squad who really haven’t done a whole lot wrong.
Rennie himself had to remind reporters that young flyhalf Noah Lolesio was instrumental with ball in hand and from the kicking tee in the Wallabies’ series win over France in July.
Midfield players like Reece Hodge and Len Ikitau have been part of the squad since the start of the France series too, and there’s certainly an argument that they’ve done nothing that deserves Kerevi being parachuted in over the top of them on the back of just a couple of weeks on the training track.
Of course, we couldn’t rule out Rennie throwing up both players as red herrings, and that the side he names on Friday for Bledisloe three won’t feature either Kerevi or Cooper. We’ll find out one way or another.
Either way, it’s certainly made for a fascinating build-up to the Perth Test.