The 31: Breaking down the Wallabies' World Cup hopefuls

Who will make Michael Cheika's 31-man Wallabies squad for the World Cup? Jamie van Leeuwen/ESPN

Eleven rounds of Super Rugby have come and gone, and all four of Australia's teams remain in the playoff mix.

There have been some excellent team performances, but also frustrating defeats, as the Brumbies, Rebels, Reds and Waratahs all struggle for consistency.

Individually, a few players have really shone, while others are headed in the wrong direction and must rectify their form if they're to come into Rugby World Cup consideration.

Read on as we break down each position or position group, using the same formula Michael Cheika took to the 2015 tournament.

Click here for the earlier edition of The 31.


On the plane: Folau Fainga'a

In the mix: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Alex Mafi, Damian Fitzpatrick, Anaru Rangi

On the slide: Tolu Latu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Jordan Uelese

Overview: Despite taking some flak from Wallabies coach Michael Cheika for the composition of his "rig", Brumbies rake Folau Fainga'a remains the standout performer here, setting up a potential all-Brumbies front-row unit. Tatafu Polota-Nau's Super Rugby loan lasted little more than a fortnight before he was recalled to Leicester, while Tolu Latu returned from suspension for the Waratahs at the weekend, only to suffer a calf injury. Alex Mafi could yet emerge as the smoky, having deposed Brandon Paenga-Amosa as the Reds' first-choice rake. Both Damian Fitzpatrick and Anaru Rangi have performed consistently and possess the best lineout efficiency of any Australian [93 and 92 percent respectively], but concerns remain about their lack of size. Meanwhile, the Rebels' Jordan Uelese could make his long-awaited return against the Hurricanes this week.


On the plane: Alan Ala'alatoa, Scott Sio

In the mix: Sekope Kepu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, JP Smith, Ruan Smith, Harry Hoopert, Jermaine Ainsley

On the slide: Tetera Faulkner, Tom Robertson

Overview: The Brumbies lads remain the clear leaders here while Sekope Kepu has improved, save for those same old problems around his handling; Kepu's missed tackle for the Sharks' second try won't have made for pleasant viewing at the Waratahs' video session either. Taniela Tupou is another interesting one; the Reds prop probably isn't having quite the same impact around the paddock as last year and, worryingly, has given up the most penalties of any prop in Super Rugby. He has also jumped into the Israel Folau saga. It may be that as a last call, Cheika has to weigh up Tupou's potential impact/infringement ratio against the steadier, workmanlike approach of, say, Harry Johnson-Holmes. Tom Robertson still has to return from injury, too.


On the plane: Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rory Arnold

In the mix: Sam Carter, Matt Phillip, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons

On the slide: Jed Holloway

Overview: Queensland Reds pair Izack Rodda and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto have joined Rory Arnold as Australia's standout locks in Super Rugby, with the Rebels' Luke Jones not too far behind. Salakaia-Loto started the year on the side of the scrum at No. 6 but has surely proven he is more suited to the lock position, despite the Wallabies coach using him in the back-row in the past. Jones, who is playing mostly at No. 6 for the Rebels, is also in outstanding form and could easily slip into the second-row, which means there may only be one, or one-and-a-half World Cup lock spots left. Rob Simmons continues to work hard in defence for the Waratahs but has little impact from a ball-carrying perspective - his hands have also let him down - while Adam Coleman is still to find his best for the Rebels. Jed Holloway has had his moments, particularly on the carry, but his brain explosion against the Sharks will be hard to forget.


On the plane: Michael Hooper, Isi Naisarani, Luke Jones

In the mix: Jack Dempsey, Pete Samu, Lachie McCaffrey, Ned Hanigan, Tom Cusack, Angus Scott-Young, Richard Hardwick, Angus Cottrell.

On the slide: David Pocock

Overview: Let's start with the elephant in the room. Yes, David Pocock's name is in the 'On the slide' category because, well, we haven't seen him play for almost two months. The Brumbies say they are managing the situation, and evidence of Pocock ripping into his rehab is available on Instagram, but at what point do we really worry for his durability? The only other movement in the back-row since our first "The 31" is the Qantas ticket awarded to Luke Jones; his ability to cover both rows, high workrate and lineout jumping make him a solid World Cup option. If Pocock isn't fit for Japan, then Reds youngster Liam Wright is certainly putting forward a case to be Hooper's back-up No. 7, the Reds youngster has made the second-most tackles [116] of any openside in Super Rugby and is equal leader for forced penalties [6]. Pete Samu, meanwhile, has been strong for the Brumbies and looms as 6/8 cover but, amid a swag of injuries, there is genuine uncertainty as to whom may fill the back-row trio.


On the plane: Will Genia, Nic White

In the mix: Tate McDermott, Jake Gordon, Joe Powell, Nick Phipps

Overview: If the rumours out of England are to be believed, then Nic White is as good as selected for the World Cup after starring for Exeter in the Premiership. Chiefs coach Rob Baxter reportedly made the remark after the weekend's narrow win over Harlequins. White would still need to sign a Super Rugby deal for the closing weeks of the 2020 season, but otherwise looks increasingly likely for Japan. While the Wallabies took just two No. 9s to the 2015 tournament, they did have emergency cover in Matt Giteau had either of Will Genia or Nick Phipps gone down injured. That means there may be room for one more halfback this time around; Jake Gordon and impressive Reds youngster Tate McDermott seemingly with their noses in front right now.


On the plane:

In the mix: Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Christian Leali'ifano, Matt Toomua.

Overview: The Wallabies' biggest conundrum is still without an obvious answer. The three men above, Toomua aside, have each had their moments this season but there is a distinct lack of consistency. That is perhaps best reflected by Bernard Foley's missed conversion attempt, which would have rescued a bonus point, in the Waratahs' loss to the Sharks. Just a week earlier, however, Foley outplayed Cooper in a head-to-head battle at the SCG. Leali'ifano, meanwhile, continues to fly a touch under the radar at the Brumbies but the veteran playmaker actually boasts the best defensive success rate [80 percent] of the trio. It may be that Cheika and his selection panellists opt for whom they feel is the best fit outside Genia and who can free up the rampaging Samu Kerevi at No. 12. What will be interesting is the impending return of Matt Toomua; he joins up with the Rebels in a matter of weeks.


On the plane: Samu Kerevi

In the mix: Billy Meakes, Karmichael Hunt, Matt Toomua

On the slide: -

Overview: The midfield carries an asterisk, of sorts, given Israel Folau's pending Code of Conduct hearing. But regardless of how that plays out, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is already on the record as saying "he can't pick Folau right now." How that affects this position relates to Kurtley Beale and the likelihood of him being viewed more as a fullback, rather than an inside centre, as is now the case at the Waratahs. But such is the form that Samu Kerevi has continued to display, that Cheika would be mad to entertain any other option at No. 12. The only concern with the Reds skipper's performance is a centre-high 20 missed tackles; when you compare that with, say, Ryan Crotty's five from only one fewer game, the need to partner Kerevi with a defensively sound outside centre is obvious. From a utility value, Karmichael Hunt, who will now get an extended run at inside centre for NSW, may just offer a little more than Meakes from the bench while Toomua is just as capable at 12 as he is at 10.


On the plane: Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Tevita Kuridrani

In the mix: Jack Maddocks, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Marika Koroibete, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Sefa Naivalu, Henry Speight, Reece Hodge

On the slide: Dane Haylett-Petty, Curtis Rona

Overview: With the Folau situation still fluid, but with all signs suggesting he won't be in Japan, Tom Banks and Kurtley Beale have moved into the box-seat to start at fullback, particularly with Dane Haylett-Petty sidelined by injury. Both men are thus on their way to Japan, in our books anyway, while Tevita Kuridrani remains the obvious choice at outside. He has been solid without being brilliant amid Adam Ashley-Cooper's improving form; you know what you're going to get from the veteran utility and he looks to be firming as the man most likely to push Kuridrani. Chris Feauai-Sautia could yet be an option, though, particularly if he continues his rich recent vein of form. So often cut down by injury, Feauai-Sautia is at last stringing games together; his most recent effort in the Reds' win over the Sharks returning nine runs for 50 metres, two clean breaks and tackle busts each, and a five-pointer to boot. With potentially four or more spots up for grabs, the outside backs carry plenty of intrigue.