Ferguson has the skill and ambition to achieve Wallabies dream, says Cheika

Michael Cheika has backed Blake Ferguson to achieve his Wallabies dream, saying: “A player of his calibre can certainly make it.”

Ferguson has been quarantining in Japan before he joins the NEC Green Rockets alongside Cheika, the franchise’s new director of coaching, and former Knights centre Gehamat Shibasaki. The club confirmed Ferguson’s signing late on Friday.

Michael Cheika believes Blake Ferguson has the skill and ambition needed to play for the Wallabies.Credit:Getty

Cheika was helping Argentina prepare for a Test against France this weekend when he told The Sun-Herald how excited he was to return to Japan before Christmas and help the former Parramatta flyer make the swift switch to rugby.

Ferguson revealed last month he wanted to represent the Wallabies. He will be 33 when the 2023 World Cup begins.

Former Wallabies coach Cheika said international rugby was not beyond Ferguson despite his age, and his ambition was a major reason for luring him to the rival code.

“The reason we chased him was because he showed last year he was playing the game at a very high level and he scored some great tries [for Parramatta],” Cheika said.

Blake Ferguson confirms his rugby move to Japan.Credit:Instagram

“He’s a real thinker of the game. The conversations we had with him about rugby, he was inquisitive and asked all the right questions. He’s got ambition, which I like – he’s a footballer who wants to try something new and conquer another challenge.

“I read somewhere he wanted to play for the Wallabies, and I admire that. People might ask, ‘How will he do that’, but you can’t do it if there’s no dream. A player of his calibre can certainly make it. He’s enthusiastic and a strong man who will run hard and tackle hard.

“He can play centre or wing. And I have had that experience with league guys coming to union in the past.

“There will be heavy competition for spots [with the Wallabies], but he can make it. [Suliasi] Vunivalu has hardly played this year because of injuries, and you have Marika [Koroibete]. But because they’re now picking players from overseas, they can mix and match and give Blake a run now and then.

“It’s up to him to show if he deserves that opportunity, and then it’s up to him to take it if it does come.” Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika on Blake Ferguson.Credit:Getty

“Australia played Japan the other week, and had Blake been playing up here, and playing well, that would have been the perfect opportunity for him.

“It’s up to him to show if he deserves that opportunity, and then it’s up to him to take it if it does come. I’m certainly looking forward to working with him and helping him.”

Cheika said the biggest challenge for outside backs making the switch was the consistent movement off the ball. Centres, in particular, need to shift from one side of the field to the other. League wingers predominantly take a hit-up early in the attacking set and defend on one side of the field.

Ferguson played 249 NRL games and won the 2018 premiership with the Roosters when he had 21 hit-ups. He played the final half hour of the game with a leg fracture. Vunivalu played in the same game for Melbourne.

Western Force were keen on signing Ferguson in the middle of the year when it became clear the Eels were not going to renew the NSW Origin and Kangaroos winger’s contract.

Force chief executive Tony Lewis told the Herald at the time: “We believe that Blake would be an exceptional rugby player. We think he is good enough to play international rugby.”

Cheika will return to Japan after assisting the Pumas and commentating on Wallabies games for English TV. He will also coach Lebanon at next year’s Rugby League World Cup.

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