Feeling the heat: The Waratahs test the pain barrier on their first pre-season training run, in the steep streets of Coogee.

Feeling the heat: The Waratahs test the pain barrier on their first pre-season training run, in the steep streets of Coogee. Photo: Peter Rae

There have been some refreshingly bold words about the Waratahs' ambitions for next year from their coach Michael Cheika recently. Thankfully, when asked about his ''top-two finish'' goal for NSW - unlike the conservative ''making the finals'' mantra of most coaches - he has not back-tracked.

If anything, Cheika reinforced that lofty goal for the underachieving Waratahs in his second season as coach, after they were ninth this year. ''I don't see it as a big deal,'' Cheika said on Wednesday after training with his team in a gruelling fitness session of hill running in the heat near Coogee beach.

''If you are not playing footy to win it, what are you doing? I'm not here for a job. I want to win the comp and we have to do what we can. There is no guarantee that, because we say we want to win that we are going to, but what we can do is prepare as best as we possibly can to do it … I think that is what our supporters would want.''

Cheika would be right on that. For too long it has appeared the Waratahs have settled for less, rather than dare to step out of their comfort zone early and push for the title. Cheika got the Waratahs to shed any sense of comfort with their training session in which they ran seven times up a steep and long incline that included steps.

It might have lacked any focus on boosting posture and poise in their running, but it certainly tested their mental resilience in readiness for the tough back end of a match.

''Most of the sports scientists will tell you you can do much better running off the flat or off the track … or get more out of it,'' Cheika said. ''But the mental mindset says that, 'I've got to do this,' even though it's quite hard because they [will] puff enough after the very first [time up the hill] and there is still a long way to go. That's when you need to become stronger in the season - in the mental side of the game.''

By running with his team, Cheika also got to see close up and personal who was putting in - or putting out as well, judging by the sound of retching afterwards. Cheika reminded them there would be no molly coddling of any of his players.

Hence, his apparent indifference when asked about the mindset of Kurtley Beale, who joined NSW from the Rebels and had a shoulder operation at the end of a year in which he underwent counselling at a rehabilitation clinic for alcohol issues.

''I'm not going to muck around with that stuff. He is a man. He can make his decisions, take responsibility like everyone else and get on with it. We hope he will be back into the skills component things around December, without the contact; then the contact in January. So by the time the first trial comes he will be fit and able, no problem. He has got X-factor.''

Rupert Guinness