The impact of Wycliff Palu's return to the Waratahs' starting side extends beyond the trademark physicality and ball carrying capability that he brings to the side, says NSW prop Benn Robinson.
The mere naming of the 194-centimetre, 116-kilogram back-rower on Tuesday as the Waratahs' No.8 for Saturday's game against the Hurricanes at Allianz Stadium in Moore Park, Sydney, lifted the mood and spirit of the under-pressure team, Robinson said.
After the Waratahs' disappointing 21-13 loss to the Blues in Auckland last week, the NSW team that is now sixth on the Super Rugby ladder and third in the Australian conference had very little to feel happy about.
But with Palu back in the Waratahs' run-on side after his second-half appearance off the bench last week, the mood, focus and energy in the team lifted at training this week – especially in the forward pack.
The Waratahs have deliberately eased Palu back from the sidelines after the recent death of his father, Lua, which led to him missing games against Western Force and the Bulls.
However, the Waratahs could not hide their admiration for Palu before Saturday's must-win game against the Hurricanes, who are on a four-game winning streak.
"Having Cliffy there next to you is a morale booster," Robinson said. "You know what you are going to get from Cliff and you know it's going to be a positive for the side."
Asked what Palu's main playing assets are, Robinson said: "First, his physicality. Every time I envisage him with the ball, I envisage him running hard. I also envisage him making big tackles. He is always there looking for a big tackle.
"Players feed off his physicality and just his presence of being in the side. There is a confidence factor that he brings to the side."
Waratahs five-eighth Bernard Foley agreed, saying: "Cliffy is such a massive amount of our side.
"You can just tell by his impact in the second half last week. When he comes on his presence there – no one matches it in the side.
"Just to have him in the side is an enormous, uplifting prospect for us. Hopefully he will have a big impact [against the Hurricanes]."
Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson believes that Palu will return to the starting side with greater energy due to his break.
"Obviously Cliff has had to deal with some personal issues," Gibson said. "[But], during that time, it has enabled his body to rest up.
"I think we are really going to see the benefit of [Palu] having two weeks away from the game.
"He is the type of player we are really going to need on Saturday night."
Gibson did not shy from recognising the importance of Saturday's game. A loss would be a major blow to the Waratahs' finals hopes.
But, for the Hurricanes, a loss could mean they drop from fourth on the Super Rugby ladder to eighth, and from first to fourth in the New Zealand conference.