18 months ago, Dan Poletto was playing third grade colts.
On Saturday, he’ll start his fourth straight first grade Shute Shield match for Sydney Uni and lead the Students in a top of the table clash against Northern Suburbs
“He wasn’t really a superstar at Kings and played a full season in third grade colts in 2016, then worked his way into first grade colts last year,” rookie Sydney Uni coach Rob Taylor told Rugby News.
“He’s studying veterinary science at the University and he’s one of those really good stories.”
Tasked with rebuilding the Sydney University dynasty after the club’s first grade side missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 1998, Taylor has replaced the experience of club stalwarts Tom Cater and Tim Davidson, with the youthful exuberance of Poletto and co.
“Dan’s a bit of a quasi Stephen Larkham. He’s a real ice man and doesn’t show a whole lot of emotion. He could score a length of the field try and probably be asleep by the time he gets back to halfway, he’s a really composed player.
“He’s got a big boot and is a great goal kicker, he runs onto the ball really well and has that Jordy Barrett like ease in attack.
“I think he’s a bit of a diamond in the rough for Australian rugby.”
While the Sydney Uni forward pack is filled with established, albeit still young players, the backline is anything but.
Poletto made his first grade debut in round one alongside centres Will McDonnell and Harry Potter while halfback Theo Strang, fullback Tim Clements and wingers Guy Porter and James Kane have all only played a handful of first grade fixtures between them.
“There are some really exciting signs for NSW Rugby because a lot of these really young guys are already performing at a high level,” Taylor continued.
“They all worked really hard through the preseason and deserved their opportunity in round one. From then, they’ve improved every week and I think it’s important that we give them time to grow and become more comfortable playing first grade rugby.
“Even if one of them had a shocker in round one or two, we probably would have stuck with them because we know the potential that they’ve got.”
But Poletto’s ascendency is particularly impressive considering the club’s depth.
Despite being the youngest playmaker at Camperdown, Poletto has beaten established Shute Shield first graders Ben Hughes and Stu Dunbar and former Australian Schoolboys No.10 Connor O’Shea in the race for the starting spot.
And that’s just one of several selection headaches keeping Taylor on his toes in his first season in charge.
“We’re in a very fortunate position at the moment because almost every back is injury free. We’ve got Henry Clunies-Ross and James Armstrong to come back from the Aussie Sevens and it’s hard to fit all these guys in.”
The Students have scored 175 points in their opening three bonus point wins, but face their toughest test of the season this weekend when they travel to Bowral to play the Shoreman.
“We’ve probably had one of the easier starts to the season compared to other sides but we’ve been able to hit all the targets we set for the opening three weeks and that’s pleasing,” Taylor said.
“Norths have been exceptional for a number of years now, their composure and accuracy is second to none. I think last week’s West Harbour clash was good preparation though and although Norths offer a different challenge, I think we’ll be up for it.
“We just need to stay composed and take care of our individual roles, I think that’s important against a side like Norths. I’m excited to see how these young guys fare individually and as a backline because it’s a great opportunity to play against a very disciplined and accurate side.”
Sydney Uni host Norths at Eridge Park in Bowral on Saturday for their annual Country Round.