Time to take charge: Michael Cheika has challenged Bernard Foley to be a more dominant figure for the Waratahs.

Time to take charge: Michael Cheika has challenged Bernard Foley to be a more dominant figure for the Waratahs. Photo: Getty Images

Michael Cheika says it is time for Australia's incumbent Test halves pairing to take the reins at the Waratahs and do something special with a unique opportunity. 

The Waratahs' season opener against the Western Force on Sunday will reunite Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley in the sky blue No.9 and No.10 jerseys for the first time since they helped  set up a remarkable Super Rugby final victory in front of almost 62,000 people at ANZ Stadium last August. 

After two Test appearances off the bench against New Zealand, the pair went on to claim the equivalent gold jerseys under Ewen McKenzie and his successor, Cheika.

But after a nine-Test run at the top yielded the Wallabies just three victories, Cheika has challenged both players to shed their newcomers tag and make the jerseys their own – starting with the Waratahs.

"Maybe it's still a bit early to say they've come of age," the NSW coach said. "I think once they meet this challenge ahead of them now, of saying here's a pairing that's now played for their state and for their country, that they grow into that status.

"It's one thing getting there and achieving that status, it's another thing riding and growing and using that and the self-belief that comes with that to play better and orchestrate their team playing better.

"A lot of the stuff that they do doesn't actually show in their own bit, it shows in the performance of others around them, and that's why it's so important that they stay close together. 

"If you add [No.12 Kurtley Beale] on to the edge of that little threesome, I think they're going to be a big part of what we do this season."

Despite the recent distraction of Foley's long-term plans, Phipps said both players had returned to NSW with a clear grasp of the task ahead. 

"How important it is isn't lost on us," he said.

"I think last year we were both just really stoked to be there in a great team, but the team's going to demand a bit more from us this year, it's not enough to just be happy being back playing and happy getting starts for both the Tahs and Wallabies.

"It's about time we start to take the reins a bit more and start to develop our game around the style we want to play."

Phipps is entering just his second season with the Waratahs but has made the No.9 jersey his own in a short space of time, pairing effectively with teammate Brendan McKibbin to cover the demanding position through a regular season of ups and downs in 2014. 

The 26-year-old's connection with Foley, also growing into his first season in the role of chief playmaker, evolved throughout the season. The pair worked closely with Beale and attack coach Daryl Gibson to steady the ship after some inconsistent team performances in the first half of the season, and learnt the hard way against the Sharks in Durban that their leadership would be central to the side's success or otherwise. 

This season, Cheika has demanded the reigning champions iron out the kinks that blighted the first half of last year, and said there were no more excuses for performances that deviated from the side's work rate-heavy, attacking style. 

"Cheik's made it pretty clear we have a big role to play this year and we don't want to let anyone down," Phipps said.

"We want to make sure we're across every single bit of detail and use the boys to the best of their abilities so they play well and they dominate and that will feed off into the rest of the team."

With a world cup on the horizon and signs a once-immovable Will Genia is on the comeback path, Phipps knows time is precious and form is king. After Luke Burgess' departure for France after the 2011 world cup, Phipps was the long-suffering bench-dweller behind the all-conquering Queenslander, until form problems cost Genia his spot under McKenzie. 

"I've been lucky enough to have a good couple of years but I'm never going to be complacent," Phipps said.  

"You've seen my career so far, there's been ups and downs, there's always someone coming for you and you're only ever an injury away [from that]. 

"It's so hard to top last year but I'd like to try to take a bit more control and ownership. It's a work in progress."