SYDNEY - In Jeremy Tilse's own words, it's been a long pre-season.
Seven years long in fact.
But heading into his eighth season at the Waratahs, the giant NSW prop will finally make his run-on Super Rugby debut against Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
After earning his first cap as a reserve in 2007, Tilse gets his maiden starting chance at the expense of Wallabies prop Benn Robinson, who has been sensationally dropped to the bench.
Coach Michael Cheika said on Thursday that Robinson's demotion from the starting line-up is not due to form.
However, the new boss has made it clear he won't be picking teams on reputations alone, and Robinson's benching should put the rest of the star-studded side on notice, as Cheika fights to effect cultural change at the perennial under-achieving franchise.
Tilse, 26, has spent his career playing behind Test stars like Robinson and Sekope Kepu, but says he didn't become disillusioned despite waiting so long to get the No.1 on his back.
He puts his late-blooming down to the change of environment brought about by Cheika's appointment.
"I've always trained well. I think it's just the different environment," Tilse said.
"Everyone is performing well. Everyone has their chance to put their best foot forward.
"It's hard knowing there are Wallabies in front of you, but it's also the best thing for me to build my game. I'm training against the best in the country. I think it's done me wonders.
"It's been a good pre-season. And for me it's been a long pre-season - seven years or so."