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Wallabies lock answers SOS to fill injury-plagued squad

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, who has played 30 Tests, had fallen out of favour at both the Reds and Wallabies since announcing he had signed to play with UK club Northampton for 2022-23.

But with the injury list continuing to swell following England’s series-levelling win in Brisbane, Australian coach Dave Rennie has opted to call on the experience of Salakaia-Loto for this Saturday’s SCG clash.

Starting lock Caderyn Neville injured his knee in the second half of the 25-17 loss, which followed Darcy Swain’s two-week ban and injuries to squad members Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan.

France-based Rory Arnold is only due back this week with Salakaia-Loto 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.

Salakaia-Loto played in all five matches at the 2019 World Cup under then coach Michael Cheika, and nine Tests under Rennie with his last in August 2021 against New Zealand, unable to crack the squad again after leaving for the birth of his child.

But dropping from Reds co-captain to out of the match-day 23 by the end of the Super Rugby Pacific season, his lack of game time counted against him when the initial Wallabies squad for the England series was announced.

He has been playing club rugby for Souths in Brisbane, continuing to put his hand up for a Test recall.

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.

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 and Andrew Kellaway were early casualties of the England campaign.


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