Tatafu Polota-Nau questioned whether he still had the pace to match the emerging hookers in the Wallabies squad.
After one day back in camp with the squad in Cessnock, the 33-year-old Leicester No.2 remains unconvinced.
Rested from the June series against Ireland after returning from a stint in the English Premiership, Polota-Nau is back in the mix to earn his 83rd Test cap. The powerhouse scrummager is one of four hookers alongside former NSW Waratahs teammate Tolu Latu, Reds’ incumbent Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Brumbies young gun Folau Faingaa.
“Watching the June series from over there, I questioned myself as to whether I could keep up with the pace here,” Polota-Nau said after a skills session with Hunter juniors at Cessnock Sportsground on Monday.
“At the same time the boys played a tremendous series against Ireland. It was a pity about the result. Look at the likes of Brandon and Tolu, they both stepped up. Even watching the trial game, seeing Folau run out there. I’m questioning why I came back.”
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has a different view and selected Polota-Nau under Australia's 'Giteau law', which provides exemption from the Rugby Australia policy of picking only home-based players.
“I remember last year coming here for a really tough camp,” Polota-Nau said. “I’m playing catch up really. They have set a really high standard for me to come back to. First day, it was a tough day at the office for me and I can only get better. None the less it’s great to be back.”
Polota-Nau helped lead Leicester to fifth place in the English Premiership and fourth in the group stage of the European Cup.
“It was a great experience seeing what the Northern Hemisphere style of play is like and hopefully I can bring back some lessons I learned over there to us,” the hooker said.
The Wallabies open the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship assault against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium on August 18.
More than 400 juniors from throughout the Hunter region attended the coaching and autograph session.
“Going back a couple of decades ago when I used to play junior rugby, a lot of it was done up here at Merewether Carlton,” Polota-Nau. “I still keep in touch with a lot of boys there.
“It’s great to see the young kids here because they are the future.
“Hopefully we can give them something to aspire to when they grow up.”
The Wallabies are spending four days in Cessnock.
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has boldly suggested that the Wallabies deserve favouritism for the Bledisloe Cup.
Hansen ignored 16 years of New Zealand dominance by declaring Cheika's team more than capable of reclaiming the trans-Tasman silverware.
"We lost to Australia the last time we played them, so no doubt they'll have a lot of self confidence and are worthy of starting as favourites," said Hansen after naming a powerful All Blacks squad.