NSW Waratahs captain Jake Gordon says his greenhorn No.10 Will Harrison is ready to step out of Bernard Foley's shadow in Friday's Super Rugby AU opener against the Queensland Reds.
Two-time World Cup winner Tim Horan has earmarked the 21-year-old as a leading contender to pull the strings for the next-generation Wallabies and he has the perfect platform to state his case against first-choice five-eighth James O'Connor in Brisbane.
O'Connor, this week installed as interim Reds captain after Liam Wright's ankle injury, is 30 and has nine years on Harrison, who was part of the Wallaby camp last year.
Horan doesn't expect O'Connor to reach the French showpiece in 2023 and believes Harrison can join Brumbies playmaker Noah Lolesio to heap pressure on him with big seasons in 2021.
New Waratahs skipper Gordon says his halves partner has taken hold of a young side that's seen more than 1500 caps of experience depart, including Foley, in the last two years.
"After Bernard Foley, who did great things for this club, it's a bit daunting to fill that position," halfback Gordon said of the fresh-faced No.10.
"But it's naturally a progression; he wasn't tentative, but maybe a bit shy to start but now he's really feeling confident, calling plays, leading our team meetings.
"He's such an energetic guy but he's really tough as well, puts his body on the line and his core skills have gone to another level after Wallaby camp.
"I love playing with him, he's a tough bugger."
They'll be without another "tough bugger" in Lachie Swinton, who was red-carded in his Test debut last year and, along with Reds lock or flanker Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, will miss the opener through suspension.
Reds captain Wright and hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa are injured while high-profile NRL recruit Suliasi Vunivalu has been denied a debut after his run-in with a security guard.
The Reds' depth sees them retain favouritism though, while unheralded Waratahs backrower Carlo Tizzano will ensure Swinton's absence isn't sorely missed after he lit a fuse in the corresponding game last season.
"It's unlucky Lachie Swinton can't be out there, but we're expecting something again," Gordon grinned of their rivalry.
"He's (Tizzano) a little mongrel, great ball carrier and fights for every metre.
"He reminds me of Michael Hooper and we're looking for the same (energy level) from Tizzano."
Former Queensland Reds back and Wallabies hopeful Izaia Perese, who was sacked by the NRL's Brisbane Broncos after being charged with a drug-related offence, will begin his new chapter in the centres for the Waratahs in what will be a tasty duel with Hunter Paisami.