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Michael Cheika hails 'spiritual leader' Wycliff Palu
February 24, 2014
New South Wales Waratahs made a barnstorming start to the season

Michael Chieka praised Wycliff Palu as the spiritual leader of New South Wales Waratahs after the veteran No.8 wound back the clock in the win over Western Force in Sydney on Sunday.

The Waratahs scored six tries in their second-best attacking start to a Super Rugby season, but Cheika paid tribute to the platform set by his big men up front.

Will Skelton was impressive at lock, and experienced front-rowers Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau set the agenda in the scrum. But Palu proved the difference in the forward battle as New South Wales recorded their impressive 43-21 win at Allianz Stadium.

Palu, 31, has been slowed in recent years by a relentless run of injuries, most recently a knee problem that ruled him out of the second half of last year, but he showed he still had plenty of fight with a bruising display that featured a first-half surge through the front-line and pass for Israel Folau to score his second try.

Cheika expects a big year from Palu, saying "he's had a really good training regime tailored to what he is and what he needs".

"I think he was very, very good today," Palu said. "Just his attitude and leadership - he's very much the spiritual leader of the team and that example is what others feed off." Dave Dennis said Palu was a player whom others followed, declaring him to be in his best shape for years.

"He's playing with the go-forward and physicality we want as a leader," the Waratahs said of his No,8. "He's a leader in his own right through what he does. Through actions more than anything."

Cheika, meanwhile, gave his new midfield combination of Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale a pass mark despite some errors.

"They didn't look out of place, put it that way. They were solid and that's what I want. I don't want them creating magic every two minutes. Our wider men got a lot of touches, which is usually a sign the inside guys are doing their bit."

© AAP

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