«There’s an expectation. Because I’m towards the back end, and there’s that argument about (using) young blood. I really want to come back and contribute and do really well. See if I can help this team to a premiership.
«Obviously there’s the ambition later down the track for the World Cup, but first job’s first, I’m in that mindset where I’m taking it really seriously this year, but you’ve got to be able to enjoy it as well.»
A hamstring injury to centre Lalakai Foketi means NSW coach Daryl Gibson will be looking hard at his back-line combinations for the season opener. If Kurtley Beale is tapped for a return to the Waratahs’ No.12 jersey, Curtis Rona, Karmichael Hunt or Ashley-Cooper could pair up with him in the midfield.
But after Hunt, 32, did everything asked of him over two trial starts at inside-centre, a productive 10-minute spell together when Ashley-Cooper came on could tempt Gibson to put out one of Super Rugby’s oldest — and highest-quality — centre partnerships on Saturday. Only a potential Ma’a Nonu (36) and Sonny Bill Williams (33) pairing at the Blues would trump them.
«I only got 10 minutes with him but it was cool to be outside him and be in game mode, to talk to him and connect with him on the field,» Ashley-Cooper said.
«I’ll hopefully get a lot more time with him throughout the year. He’s a very talented footballer and I saw with a couple of his carries that he’s very aggressive and physical. I really like that. He’s going to contribute in big ways this year, which is really exciting for this team.»
For a team targeting improved defence, Hunt and Ashley-Cooper could provide plenty of pointers. The latter is acknowledged as one of the best defenders in rugby and the former, a three-code dual international, brought starch to a defensive line otherwise too easily bent by the Brumbies in Goulburn.
Either way, the Waratahs will use a number of different midfield combinations this season as Beale and Ashley-Cooper are swapped in and out under the World Cup rotational agreement.
Ashley-Cooper, on 117 Tests after rejoining the Wallabies for their November tour of Europe, arrived home to a greatly changed Waratahs set up. Although many of his Test teammates are still there, the team is in a new location at Daceyville, has a new chief executive and an all-new coaching line up under Gibson.
What hasn’t changed is the intense competitiveness fuelling the former Northern Suburbs back. He admitted he had thought about whether or not the chance of a fourth World Cup was worth risking a legacy of great success, including a Super Rugby title with NSW and the 2015 World Cup final.
«Do you really want to sit on that? The highest of highs would be a World Cup trophy, wouldn’t it,» Ashley-Cooper countered.
«I thought about that but I still want to compete. If I’m past it … if I’m still competing that means I’ve still got something to contribute in a way, doesn’t it? That’s what I want to do. My body is still playing the game and I still want to challenge myself and feel the contest. I want to have a go.»
Georgina Robinson is the chief rugby reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.