Ready to pounce: Jack Maddocks' roaming Rebels role

Quade Cooper (top), Jack Maddocks (R) and Billy Meakes celebrate a try during the Rebels' win over the Brumbies in Canbetta, February 15, 2019 Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images

Armed with a licence to roam, rising Rebels star Jack Maddocks hopes his five-pointer against the Highlanders is only the beginning of a flourishing partnership with Quade Cooper.

And the 2018 Wallabies rookie is confident he's better for the challenges of last year's Test season, having ridden the highs of a try on debut to the lows that were a string of defeats that marked the beginning of his international career.

"My first few games I was just stoked to be there, to be in that [Wallabies] environment," Maddocks told ESPN. "And then towards the back end of the year, the losses were starting to hurt a lot more, personally, but I just tried not to lose sight of the fact that I was young and I was happy to be where I was.

"At the same time I felt like, at times, it was hard not to get down about results and stuff, but I was just trying to stay focused on how I could bring more to the team."

After scoring in the Wallabies' 38-13 Bledisloe Cup defeat in Sydney, Maddocks won five more caps across the Rugby Championship and spring tour, only tasting victory against the Springboks in Brisbane.

As far as Test-match introductions go, they don't come much tougher.

Still, Maddocks has returned in 2019 a little bit heavier -- three kilos, which, to his surprise, he has managed to maintain -- spruiking the positives of the Wallabies camp not just in terms of the national setup, but also settling back into Super Rugby with the Rebels.

"I thought it was really good, I found last year when I came back into preseason you're sort of behind the eight-ball in terms of fitness and you don't know any of the calls," Maddocks said. "I felt, coming back in, you were out of your depth a little bit. So I thought the initiative of the Wallabies camp was really good.

"It just gave us a week or however long it was to prepare yourself to come back in (to the season) with a bit of physical preparation, and then when you come back in to your Super Rugby franchise, you've got a good enough fitness base where you don't stick out or you're not too far behind, and you can just focus on the gameplay stuff."

When he eventually returned to the Rebels, Maddocks immediately felt the impact of star recruit Quade Cooper.

"He was very helpful, talking to myself about little pictures that you see on the field and preparing you for those certain scenarios and situations," Maddocks said of Cooper's arrival at AAMI Park. "But I think the biggest thing that stuck out about him was that he was not only doing it with myself and other guys who had come back or other well-known players, he was doing it with 17, 18-year-olds who were training with us as well.

"That was a little thing I noticed that highlighted the type of person he is and he's certainly not a selfish player or anything like that. He's very selfless and willing to help everyone."

Maddocks is already reaping the benefits of Cooper's playmaking. In Round 1, a delightful cross-kick from his inside centre Billy Meakes, who is playing with extra freedom this season, saw Maddocks score out wide.

Then, at home to the Highlanders last Friday night, Maddocks drifted in from the right wing, choosing the perfect moment to run off Cooper's left shoulder and go in under the posts.

"I was just sort of on the right, and I had a look to the left and they didn't have many numbers, so I started trailing across because I sensed there might be something going on that side of the field," Maddocks explained.

"And then as I was getting closer, I yelled out to Quade to let him know I was coming on his hip, on the outside, and he told me to stay tucked, telling me to stay hidden, and they were very wide in defence. So I just tried to stay in behind him as long as I could and not expose myself too early, and he had the hands to get that one away."

One of the features of the Rebels' play so far this season has been how flat they are attacking up at the line. It's a style Maddocks says he likes, one that is about denying the opposition the chance to adjust their defensive pattern.

"Well that's the theory behind it, you're not showing your hand until really late so the defence has less recovery time," Maddocks said when asked if he was hopeful to see more opportunities in midfield. "If you're doing these things five metres behind the advantage line, they have one or two seconds to make up for whatever defensive disadvantage they might have been in. So we want to make them [opposition defences] have as little recovery time as possible, and make them make a lot of decisions [on the run]."

Matt Toomua's arrival at the club later in the season will only create further selection headaches for coach Dave Wessels who has already had to keep Wallabies utility Reece Hodge on the bench because of the outstanding early form of veteran Tom English.

Maddocks is in a similar situation given he prefers to play fullback, but the 22-year-old understands he must bide his time on the wing while skipper Dane Haylett-Petty fills the custodian role.

But Maddocks won't be waiting to catch a cold, chained to the right touchline.

"Dave's [Wessels] been great, ever since I came in, he's been very good with me in understanding what type of player I am," Maddocks told ESPN. "I think he recognised early on that I'm more of a fullback and obviously we have Dane here; so to get the best out of me, he gave me a roaming role where I could play a bit like a fullback on the field rather than being a traditional winger, and I think that has definitely brought the best out of me rather than just if I played out on the right side.

"As you saw with the try on the weekend, if Dave doesn't give me the licence to go looking for those opportunities that try doesn't happen."

A return clash with the Brumbies awaits the Rebels at home on Friday night, just three weeks after they defeated the same side in Canberra. Win again at AAMI Park and the Rebels will take an early grip on the Australian conference, before heading off on a two-week tour of South Africa.

"I think we've got to be really physical, they'll try and bring that; it's in their DNA as a team, they have a lot of success out of their set-piece," Maddocks said of the Brumbies. "One win, two losses, coming into an Australian conference game, they'll be up for it. So I think we need to match that in terms of physicality and desperation, and if we can do that we'll give ourselves a pretty good opportunity to win the game."

It's the same outlook Maddocks is using for his World Cup hopes. By nailing the little things and ensuring he is an attacking threat at the Rebels, his Wallabies case will be one the new selection panel will find hard to ignore.

"I think we've got a really good opportunity to do something pretty special at the Rebels here this year; it's very early in the season but I think we've proved we can certainly go a long way and our ambition is to win the whole tournament," he said.

"So for myself, I'm just trying to focus on that and bring a lot to the team every week and by doing that, week to week, what I can add to the team, that will look after my performances in itself and that will hopefully set me up for the back end of the year with a strong Rugby World Cup."