With a new season approaching fast, many of the Super Rugby franchises have made strong claims. Off-season signings and recruitment is an objective that is major, or a large component of their teams goals and forward planning. Queensland Reds head coach Nick Stiles knows that it is the best way forward for his team to return to winning ways, to re-sign established players to improve results this season.
Queensland Reds Hopeful of Return to Winning Ways
The 2011 title run of the Queensland Reds was one of a sustained effort. They were the ‘battlers from Brisbane’ and by the time they triumphed at their home ground against a tired Crusaders team, it was a classic storybook finish. Coach Ewen McKenzie then spring-boarded into the Wallabies head coaching role [after Robbie Deans was unceremoniously dumped post Rugby World Cup.
In failing to ‘back up’ that success though, the franchise has slid back down in the standings. They have good talent yes, so the poor results of recent years meant change was required. It needed to be revived with the strength that experience brings.
One of the finds of that 2011 team, was the raw excitement of Quade Cooper. He was the top points scorer of all teams, the brightest star in Australian rugby. Also present were Rob Simmons and Scott Higginbotham, so with these foundations reinstated, the current squad will be built upon their credentials.
2016: A Season To Forget
Those heady days are behind them though, with the 2016 season ending in a miserable 15th position. Only standing above the Western Force, Sunwolves and Southern Kings. A none too high accomplishment, but it is from where they can now ‘rise up’ from.
The key is to take players from that vintage, and to re-motivate them. That will test the skills of Stiles and his management group.
It takes a full squad to take on the Super Rugby competition. With 17 rounds of intense football, it requires the best from all involved. Internal issues derailed the direction last season, and to that, in 2016 fans were informed that a former player would return to their ranks.
Re-Signings and New Blood to Revamp the Reds
With Nick Stiles handed the reins, new players and re-signings will hopefully bring a return to the ‘glory days’. Stiles told the Courier Mail “I wouldn’t have put my hand up for this job if I wasn’t up for the pressure and I wouldn’t have put my hand up for the job if I didn’t think we had a squad that could win football games.”
Enticing former-Reds back to the side appears to be a tactic, in driving a strong culture back to Queensland rugby. At it’s spearhead, are the Reds. And with an eye on seeking a better direction, with the architect Cooper assuming the mantle in their quest for a higher finish in 2017.
Quade Cooper (below) was named as a key re-signing, who may herald a new period in the franchises fortunes. At the time of his signing, Daniel Herbert; Reds executive general manager told the Sydney Morning Herald “I’m an unashamed fan of Quade and have been for a long time. He gets unfairly tarnished at times. He’s done a lot for Queensland rugby and he’s played more than 100 games.”
Quade Cooper says he is excited about his return to the Reds for this year's Super Rugby tournament. pic.twitter.com/SSQGtXPJgX
Cooper is an established International first five, although he has been supplanted in the current Wallabies line-up, the chance for Cooper to work again with Nick Frizby (see main photo) is one of the more exciting combinations in the competition. Riveling TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett in experience, the ‘Cooper & Frizby show’ maybe the new star pairing of Super Rugby 2017.
Loose Forward Returns to His Roots
Another former player re-signed was Scott Higginbotham. The big, rugged flanker moved north from the Melbourne Rebels, to retake his place in the scrum. A more polished player than when he left, it will surely strengthen the group. A side that is literally bursting with loose forward talent.
His immediate competition will be Leroy Houston and highly rated youngster Caleb Timu. All three will want to get their hands on the number eight jersey. They also have a luxury of playing veteran George Smith and Japanese international Hendrik Tui. For the Reds, the back of the scrum might be their strength this season. A tool to set free the halves and backline.
Moore Added to Re-tune the Reds Engine Room
The scrum is too strengthened. Current national team captain Stephen Moore is one of the big signings, and his 100-plus Super Rugby caps can only bolster the scrum. He told rugby.com.au that “I want to be contributing, and that’s something that’s going to be a new challenge for me [at the Reds].”
Add his experience to the raw talent of the 2016 group, and you have potential. The engine room only needs to be re-tuned, for all the parts to be running at full speed. The bulk of Taniela Tupou, the internal pressure at hooker from James Slipper and Wallabies lock Kane Douglas. Beside these men, Moore will bring plenty to the group.
Rob Simmons is the third member of the 2011 alumni, and he is the rock of the side. A constant, he will work with Douglas, Moore and the publicly announced co-Captain Slipper. This senior leadership group (including Cooper) will work with a young backline, whose beacon is the man in the 15 jersey.
Hunt the Key to Reds 2017 Backline Success
Beside the re-signing of Cooper, Karmichael Hunt is the key. The code-hoping outside back is as talented as Israel Dagg, but has not shown his class consistently. At times, benched in 2016 for Ayumu Goromaru, now the Japanese player has departed Stiles will want his fullback to be the glue that holds a young backline in place.
Defense will be primary, as they conceded 458 points last year–only just better than the Rebels and Cheetahs. Leaking points makes the game harder, so a locked defensive line can assure the side in critical pressure moments. From there, counter-attack by the adventurous Cooper and Samu Kerevi may release the speed on the outside.
Chris Kurandrani is one, as his pedigree is undoubted. First cousin Tevita Kuridrani is one, as is ‘big’ brother Nemani Nadolo–yet he is still the unfinished product. Another back is Lachlan Maranta who is a strong prospect. The former Broncos league player may yet surprise many. As will Izaia Perese, the highly regarded representative player. If he can shine, and live off the offloads from Kerevi, this backline surely has the potential!
THE QUEENSLAND REDS 2017 SQUAD
- HOOKERS: Stephen Moore, Andrew Ready, Alex Mafi
- FRONT ROWERS: James Slipper, Sam Talakai, Sef Fa’agase, Taniela Tupou, Pettowa Paraka, Markus Vanzati
- LOCKS: Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Tui
- FLANKERS: Adam Korczyk, Scott Higginbotham, Hendrick Tui, George Smith, Michael Gunn, Leroy Houston, Caleb Timu, Reece Hewatt
- SCRUMHALVES: Nick Frisby, James Tuttle, Moses Sorovi
- FLYHALVES: Quade Cooper, Jake McIntyre
- CENTRES: Henry Taefu, Duncan Paia’aua, Samu Kerevi, Campbell Magnay
- WINGS: Izaia Perese, Lachlan Maranta, Eto Nabuli, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Chris Kuridrani
- FULLBACKS: Karmichael Hunt, Jayden Ngamanu
Suncorp Stadium is the home of the Queensland Reds, where so many of their greatest achievements have come true. So expect big crowds to support the squad in 2017, as they hope to return to winning ways, and recapture the heart of Queensland rugby fans.
After Hours Incident Could Derail Return
At the time of publish, a maelstrom was surrounding re-signed Scott Higginbotham. Reports this weekend put the ex-Rebels captain in a fracas with Police in the small hours of Sunday morning. While the Police statement is factual only, Higginbotham has been stood down and is not likely to be a part of the Reds Brisbane Tens squad now.
Not an ideal start to a new year, for both union and player. It highlights how off-field actions can impact directly on the team, and lay pressure on entire group. Unforeseen, ill timed, and ‘very much unappreciated’ how it will affect the teams fortunes, is unknown.
The planned return to glory days was one sold to fans. While it certainly can still occur–the world does not revolve around one player–but it now discounts the long hours of planning. The Queensland Reds must regather their thoughts, and re-focus on February 24. Whether they have Higginbotham is another matter [one for the courts to decide].
“Main photo credit”