SYDNEY - 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 for Saturday night's historic final hosting of the Crusaders, Dennis hailed Cheika's nabbing of Folau from under the nose of wealthy NRL club Parramatta a coaching masterstroke that has symbolised his two-year reign at the Waratahs.
From mid-table mediocrity in 2012, the Waratahs are one tantalising win away from clinching their first-ever Super Rugby title.
And Folau has been front and centre of the club's renaissance, topping the competition's try-scoring list in 2014 after being 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 Great Western Sydney.
"People forget 'Cheik' brought Israel across," Dennis told AAP.
"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 proud 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.