Queensland outcast Lukhan Salakaia-Loto has answered a SOS from the injury-hit Wallabies, with young Waratahs speedster Mark Nawaqanitawase also called up ahead of the deciding Test against England.
Lock/back-rower Salakaia-Loto is in line for a bench role for the crunch match at the SCG on Saturday after being plucked out of club rugby in Brisbane.
The 25-year-old seemingly fell out of favour at Rugby Australia last year and was overlooked for a top-up contract, and he was then given the cold shoulder by Reds coach Brad Thorn this Super Rugby Pacific season after he signed a deal with UK club Northampton for 2022-23.
But with the injury list continuing to swell following England’s series-levelling win in Brisbane, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie opted to bring the 30-Test forward into the squad.
Starting lock Caderyn Neville hurt his knee in the second half of the 25-17 Suncorp Stadium loss, which followed Darcy Swain’s two-week ban and injuries to squad members Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan.
The experience of Salakaia-Loto meant he was preferred ahead of Australia A locks Ryan Smith and Hugh Sinclair, who started in their 14-point win over Fiji last weekend in the Pacific Nations Cup.
A regular at the 2019 World Cup under then-coach Michael Cheika, Salakaia-Loto played nine Tests under Rennie with his last against New Zealand in August 2021 but was unable to crack the squad again after leaving for the birth of his child.
While an ankle injury disrupted his Super season, he was demoted from Reds co-captain to out of the match-day 23 after signing with the Saints.
He didn’t want to revisit his Queensland exit but still had the passion to play for the Wallabies again.
“I can’t change what happened and I don’t have anything to say on it,” Salakaia-Loto told rugby.com.au
“It’s definitely not over at 30 Tests. I want to be able to build a case for 31 and if that is from England that’s what I’m going to do.
Weighing 118kg, he has been a wrecking ball playing club rugby for Souths in Brisbane while he awaited a visa to join his UK club.
“I played three times in a week and all 80-minute games,” Salakaia-Loto said.
“I feel sharp and anyone watching me can see I’m having fun with my footy. I’ve got that back playing for my club.”
“If something crazy happens, I’ll definitely be fit, super keen and ready.”
Meanwhile, 21-year-old winger/fullback Nawaqanitawase has leap-frogged other Test hopefuls with a surprise call-up after the Wallabies’ backline stocks also took a hit.
Nawaqanitawase, who was last week included in Australia’s Sevens Commonwealth Games outfit, has been with the Australia A squad, coming off the bench against Fiji.
Picked ahead of fellow Queenslanders Jock Campbell and Filipo Daugunu, he joins the Test crew in Sydney with fullback Jordan Petaia suffering a head knock and centre Izaia Perese a serious knee injury in Brisbane.
Tom Banks (broken arm) and Andrew Kellaway (hamstring) were early casualties of the England campaign.