NSW winger Peter Betham says playing with former high school teammate and born-again Waratah Kurtley Beale feels as natural as “backyard footy”.
It looked that way on Saturday as well, when Betham and Beale combined to score the team’s third try in easy style in the 34th minute.
Betham, who played two years with Beale in the first XV at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, hovered just off his centre’s right shoulder, watched as Reds defenders zeroed in on Beale and then tore through the gaping whole that had opened up as a result.
“As soon as they saw KB go into the first receiver role, all eyes were on him, so it gives me the opportunity to sneak through,” Betham said. “Guys like Izzy [Folau] and KB get a lot of the attention; it’s when myself and [winger Alofa Alofa] and the other back-line players can actually capitalise on that, because they’re not guarding us.”
It is not quite as easy as the rangy winger makes it out to be, requiring a mountain of work off the ball to pop up when needed. “It comes with responsibility – we have to be on our game chasing the support lines and finishing off the little things, because it’s the blokes who are in the middle who basically get our tries on the board,” Betham said.
But the result is a pleasure to watch – the Waratahs have scored 10 tries in just two rounds – and appears to be bringing out the best in the back line. Betham said he was loving playing outside Beale and learning all over again to read the playmaker’s unpredictable moves.
“I’m used to some of his traits and some of his shimmies. It makes it a bonus knowing what he’s going to do and being in the right position to capitalise on what he does,” he said. “It just comes instinctively. Kurtley is an instinctive player so you just have to jump on board and grab the opportunity. It was like being back at Joeys, playing first XV rugby and not caring what the opposition is, just playing our own game, backyard footy.”
The numbers told the same story, with NSW making double the number of run metres than a static Reds side and more than three times the number of offloads and linebreaks.
There was more kicking than usual in the Waratahs’ performance, some of them better executed than others when NSW found themselves pinned inside their 22.
“Maybe in some positions we thought ‘we won’t let [Reds flanker Liam Gill] have a shot at us in this part of the field; we might put that one in behind’ . . . We’re still learning about whether we should be doing that or not,” Cheika said.
“But if you run hard and get in there and are physical at the rucks and give good ball placement to your halfback, we’ve got guys who can play. It’s a matter of getting that momentum.”
Folau’s second try, when the Waratahs kept the ball alive and moving over 75 metres through the hands of forwards and backs alike, was a classic example.
“That’s the game we’re trying to expose teams on and that’s our brand of rugby,” Betham said of that effort.
“We’re not going to shy away from how we play, whether it’s rain or sunshine.”
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