11 May 2023

Tom Wright: The Brumbies' X factor in 2023

| Tim Gavel
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Tom Wright

Tom Wright caught the eye of Bob Futon even before he’d left high school. Photo: Brumbies.

When Tom Banks headed to Japan at the end of last season, there were fears that his departure would create an enormous hole within the Brumbies ranks and Australian rugby.

Heir apparent Mack Hansen had already departed for Ireland. This added to the angst surrounding Banks opting to head overseas.

Those fears, as it has turned out, were unfounded.

The rugby league ‘Immortal’, the late Bob Fulton, identified Tom Wright as a talent when Wright was in Year 12 playing in the St Joseph’s first-grade side.

There is footage on YouTube from Joey’s during the 2015 season. Wright was playing 10, 12 and 13 through that year and was dominant. His brilliance was there for all to see.

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Fulton was so enamoured of Wright’s prodigious talent in the rugby nursery of St Joseph’s College that he offered him a contract to join the Manly NRL club straight out of school in 2016 as a potential replacement for the Parramatta-bound Kieran Foran.

The then Manly CEO Joe Kelly echoed Fulton’s summation of Wright as “the most exciting schoolboy rugby prospect in Australia”.

He spent two years in the under-20s before making his first-grade debut in the NRL against the Broncos in 2018 as a five-eighth utility off the bench.

At the end of 2018, he was enticed back to rugby union and signed with the Brumbies.

“He’s got the X factor and there’s definitely potential there,” Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said at the time.

“He’s creative, good footwork, good speed and good acceleration. He can create something out of nothing.”

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In fact, he was so good that in less than two years after returning to rugby, he made his Wallabies debut against the All Blacks in Brisbane.

Wright’s emergence as one of the leading players in Super Rugby this season can be partly attributed to the time spent in the NRL.

His toughness and ability to beat the tackle is one of the standout features of the Brumbies’ 2023 season so far.

We had a glimpse of what Wright was capable of last season when he played two games at fullback when Banks was unavailable.

The rest of his time in 2022 was on the wing.

What Wright has offered this season is more than the ability to beat his man, which he does with monotonous regularity. What he offers is tremendous ball-playing ability. He has become a wide-running fly-half providing that second option.

Remember that in both schoolboy rugby and the NRL, he was either a five-eighth, fly-half or inside centre.

He was wasted on the wing for the past four seasons prior to 2023.

He has been a revelation at fullback this season, continually beating the first line of defence.

This is why, despite the hype surrounding Joseph Suaalii, I believe Wright is a better option at fullback for the Wallabies in the future.

The Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies take on the Highlanders on Sunday (14 May) at GIO Stadium Canberra. Tickets from Ticketek.

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