Super Rugby Pacific has reshaped the competition we have grown up with since the dawn of professionalism in 1996.

The question remains, who is going to put the super back into Super Rugby, so Australian sides aren’t again lamenting a 2-23 ledger against Kiwi sides in 2022?

There are promising signs but there are rarely improvements in Aussie sides without a matching improvement in our Kiwi counterparts.

Here’s my quick take on five players who can change the shape of fortunes for the five Aussie sides and be some of the most exciting players in Super Rugby at the same time.

1. Carter Gordon (Melbourne Rebels)
We’ve all seen plenty of Noah Lolesio, Will Harrison and Ben Donaldson but blond-haired Carter Gordon may well be the talk of Australia’s young flyhalves as the season unfolds.

Just 21, Gordon has vision on the field, a sure pass, moves well, commands his team, can kick and tackles better than any of the other trio.

He is the playmaker for a team coming off a 3-10 season in 2021 so the Melbourne Rebels around him have to play better for him to truly shine.

Gordon got his first solid taste in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman last year and had some impressive moments.

He loves a cutout pass so being shrewd enough not to be intercepted by hungry Kiwi hands will be one marker of how far his instincts progress in 2022.

Winger Andrew Kellaway and the wild mullet of flanker Rob Leota progressed from the Rebels to breakout seasons with the Wallabies. It’s not beyond Gordon either.

2. Suliasi Vunivalu (Queensland Reds)
We only got a snapshot of Vunivalu’s dynamism on the wing last year before a hamstring injury grounded him.

Surgery and a long rehab period will hopefully get him on the field and firing a few rounds into the season.

Suliasi Vunivalu

(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

He is excitement, whether leaping acrobatically for a kick to the wing or scooting with pace and footwork down the sideline.

With no Marika Koroibete for the Wallabies this year, Vunivalu really is the magic the national team needs on the wing to cause England headaches.

3. Tim Anstee (Western Force)
The tall, athletic flanker had some brilliant moments last season. He has explosive acceleration away from a tackler’s clutches like few Australian back-rowers of recent times to go with his ball skills.

He had the body of a sevens player last year when the Tokyo Olympics were a potential target.

He’s added eight kilograms during the off-season, improved his value at the breakdown and has the size to really shift opponents.

Anstee is a super-exciting prospect for a club that has picked up perhaps the best recruit for the new season in Test lock Izack Rodda.

4. Mahe Vailanu (NSW Waratahs)
This hooker won’t be on everyone’s radar but he’s certainly in the plans of NSW Waratahs coach Darren Coleman.

The low-slung ball of Tongan productivity is something of a good-luck charm for Coleman.

Under Coleman, Vailanu has won premierships with Sydney clubs Warringah and Gordon and the Los Angeles Giltinis in the US.

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He’s all go-forward bustle with his dynamic surges close to the ruck, his ball-handling and his improving set piece work.

He’s already got more bankable attributes than some of the hookers who wore Wallaby gold last year.

5. Len Ikitau (Brumbies)
You always like to see how a young player comes back from a breakout season with the Wallabies.

Classy, well-rounded centres have been rare in Australian rugby in recent years and Ikitau has stood out for that reason.

Andy Muirhead, Len Ikitau and Rob Valetini of the Brumbies celebrate

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

His little in-and-away, his unselfish feeding of his outside men and growing confidence really form a standout package.

He’s still only 23 but could have a huge five-star season, which will help the Brumbies rattle and roll a few Kiwi sides.

The very best thing about this list is knowing I could be just as excited about Jordan Petaia and the fullback experiment, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Ben Donaldson, Darcy Swain and a fit and firing Pone Fa’amausili.

That really is what will make Super Rugby super again… talent igniting across the country. In winning teams.





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