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Starstruck Simone pushes for Super start

NZN 17/02/2017 Adrian Warren

Emerging NSW Waratahs centre Irae Simone admits he was starstruck being sandwiched between Wallabies pin-ups Israel Folau and Bernard Foley on Thursday night and isn't sure he's done enough to earn a starting berth for the opening Super Rugby round.

With Wallabies star Kurtley Beale now at English club Wasps, the No.12 Waratahs shirt is up for grabs.

Rob Horne, who played at inside centre in the final few rounds of last year's Super Rugby competition after Beale was injured, is now himself on the casualty list.

Simone has been thrust into contention after a strong pre-season, following a breakout 2016 campaign, winning both the NRC and Sydney club competition player of the year awards.

The 21-year-old back started Thursday's trial against the Highlanders, ahead of David Horwitz, who occupied the No.12 NSW jersey at the beginning of the 2016 Super Rugby season.

Simone played most of the game, growing in confidence after a Highlanders backline boasting several All Blacks carved up the NSW defence early on.

With Foley inside him at at five-eighth and Folau close by at outside centre, Simone had no shortage of quality support.

Asked how he felt having players of that skill either side of him, Simone said "pretty starstruck".

"It's a privilege to play a game with those guys and having that experience around me helps my game to develop."

He relished the opportunity to feed the strong and elusive Folau.

"It's a privilege and an honour to have Izzy outside me and it makes my job easier just have him running (on to) those short balls," Simone said.

"I've just got to leave them there and he'll just come flying through."

Simone isn't convinced he has locked up the inside centre spot for the round one game against the Force.

"I wouldn't say I've done enough, everyone is still fighting for a position," he said.

Tahs coach Daryl Gibson felt Simone learnt plenty from playing against the Highlanders but might have been surprised by the speed of the kiwi team's defensive line.

"It was a good game for him because it was his first time at that pace, his introduction at this level at what he's going to expect through the season," Gibson said.

"He had some nice touches, I think he would have learnt a lot."

Born in Auckland, Simone played union at high school but moved to Australia in late 2013 to join NRL club South Sydney, but didn't make a senior appearance for the Rabbitohs.

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