Coach Michael Cheika the real star

Israel Folau  at training. Picture: WOLTER PEETERS

Israel Folau at training. Picture: WOLTER PEETERS

Injured captain Dave Dennis has revealed the turning point in the NSW Waratahs' season and how Michael Cheika's audacious recruitment of Israel Folau has awoken Super Rugby's sleeping giants.

As the minor premiers prepare to host Saturday's historic final against the Crusaders, Dennis hailed Cheika's nabbing of Folau from under the nose of NRL club Parramatta a coaching masterstroke that symbolised his two-year reign at the Waratahs.

From mid-table mediocrity in 2012, the Waratahs are one win away from clinching their first Super Rugby title.

Folau has been front and centre of the state's renaissance, topping the competition's try-scoring list in 2014 after he was named the competition's rookie of the year in 2013.

Yet the dual international appeared certain to return to the NRL last year after two seasons in the AFL with Greater Western Sydney.

"People forget 'Cheik' brought Israel across," Dennis said.

"So from day one, he's pulled off a masterstroke by bringing Israel to rugby.

"I didn't even know.

"I was sitting here thinking he was going to play for the Eels.

"Then a day later, Izzy is saying he's playing for the Waratahs.

"And that's massive. The ability to do that says a lot about the character of the person."

Luring Wallabies playmaker Kurtley Beale back to Sydney and signing another New South Welshman in halfback Nick Phipps ensured the Waratahs fielded the most potent backline in the tournament this year.

Snaring former Springbok Jacques Potgieter from South Africa to add the mongrel completed the jigsaw puzzle.

"Cheik's opinion was that we lacked a bit of that edge as a forward pack. I think everyone agreed with him, including the players," Dennis said.

"He spoke to me about a few guys, including Jacques, and it went from there.

"Jacques has spent a bit of time on the bench here and there, but just his presence around the club has created a bit of a different feel about how we play our footy.

"So Cheik's just really good at identifying talent and potential."

The Waratahs enter the final on a record eight-match winning streak.

Dennis says victory from 17 points down in the first game of that long run was the catalyst behind the side's revival.

The 39-30 success over the Hurricanes came eight days after the Waratahs suffered a shocking reality check against the Blues in Auckland.

"Our biggest moment of the season was the Hurricanes game," Dennis said.

"Coming back from that Auckland game and being 24-7 behind, to come back and win, that created a lot of belief in the team and since then we've obviously pushed on.

"But we were at a stage there where we were still learning as a team about winning.

"We went over to Auckland and we had the right attitude, but we didn't play the right football and probably deserved to lose in hindsight.

"But the positive out of the whole result was we stuck to our approach.

"We didn't change anything.

"We came back here and just did it better." AAP


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