Vikings prodigy Rob Valetini taking his game to the next level
It's safe to say only injured prevented ACT Brumbies and Canberra Vikings star flanker Rob Valetini from earning a spot on the Wallabies spring tour.
It's been a frustrating nine months for what was supposed to be the prodigious talent's breakout season but Valetini is finally starting to string a few games together.
Valetini, 20, twice needed surgery to repair damage to his medial ligament in his debut Super Rugby campaign and played just three games for the Brumbies.
But he's made four straight starts for the Vikings and hit some devastating form heading into their National Rugby Championship semi-final against the Fijian Drua on Saturday.
Valetini was widely backed into bolt in the Wallabies spring tour squad but Australian coach Michael Cheika will instead give him a full Brumbies preseason to get his body right.
"I'm just trying to get some confidence in my knee, I probably struggled a few weeks ago to take tackles and make tackles, so re-gaining that confidence is where the form is coming from," Valetini said.
"It's not so much in the back of my head any more, I've just gained confidence in myself and when I'm out there I'm just thinking about rugby and what my job is.
"I've gained a lot of confidence over past two weeks with my hit-ups and tackles. The plan [after NRC] is to get into Brumbies preseason and go into next year without any injury worries.
"I've lost my fitness from the start of year after getting injured twice, so I'll get into the preseason and reset myself for next year to be better. I'm just trying to get it right."
The Fijians finished minor premiers and are unbeaten at home this season but the Vikings went closest in a 40-35 shootout two weeks ago.
"We're expecting more free-flowing rugby from them, offloads anywhere around the park and attacks from deep in their zone," Valetini said.
"I think a lot of the boys have learnt from last time, knowing it'll be real hot and we came within five points so it's just about believing we can do it no matter how hot it is.
"It's all in the head how you want to take the game on, well be better from the last game knowing what's coming come and how to stop it."
Canberra have the best defence in the competition's history but they must get past the second-best attack to make their third grand final in five years.
"We've got depth everywhere in the squad and we all believe we can win it this year. We didn't come into this competition to come second or third," Valetini said.
"Our defence is good and mistakes will come from them and then we have to counter attack. We are going up against the best attack in the comp so it will be hard but I'm confident."
Vikings coach Nick Scrivener backed Valetini to only get better and have his best game of the season against his country of heritage.
"I was picking him to have his best game last weekend a few games into it and he did. He had some really strong carries and his physical presence was certainly felt," Scrivener said.
"So were hoping hell step up a gear again and go from strength to strength. He's fit and comfortable with his injury now, thats all behind him and hes just playing footy again,"
NATIONAL RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINAL
Saturday: Fijian Drua v Canberra Vikings at Churchill Park, Fiji, 3pm AEDT.
Eamonn Tiernan is a sports reporter with The Canberra Times