Queensland Reds assistant coach Nick Stiles says the team can return to the heights of Queensland scrums past, despite major injury setbacks.
Reds captain James Slipper went under the knife last week to address an ongoing shoulder issue and Stiles said more specifics on his recovery timeline would be realised with the start of pre-season this week.
Scrummaging was one of the rare bright points for the Reds in 2015, a season that ultimately fell short of pre-season optimism.
Stiles, who steered NRC side Brisbane City to back-to-back titles, said there was a next generation of forwards coming through to help fill the void.
One experienced campaigner who could prove critical for the forwards’ fortunes is veteran Ben Daley.
Daley dislocated his shoulder midway through the season in training and a shoulder reconstruction wiped out his hopes of playing again in 2015.
Stiles said the 27-year-old was on track for an on-time start to 2016, something that has been a rare event for the injury-plagued prop.
“He’s somewhere up near 70-80 Super Rugby caps, he’s won a Super Rugby title,” he said.
“That shows you the depth we have and the biggest reason we’ve had such an improvement in the last two years is the quality of training because of that depth.
“Strong Queensland sides have traditionally been built around a strong and powerful pack and that’s the challenge for our squad.”
Stiles said young props like Sef Fa’agase and Sam Talakai could be among those to push for scrum spots in 2016, after strong NRC performances.
While Slipper’s absence is a major blow for the Reds, their lock department faces a challenge as well, with Kane Douglas ruled out of the season.
Vice-captain Rob Simmons will need to shoulder more responsibility in a new combination with Rebels recruit Cadeyrn Neville.
Simmons and Douglas had time to hone a combination during their World Cup run with the Wallabies, but a reunion will have to wait until the 2017 Super Rugby season.
The loss of Douglas and Slipper might seem like deja vu for Reds fans, who watched on as the better part of their best XV sat on the sidelines in 2015.
Stiles said they the Reds acutely aware of the need to lure fans back after a disappointing year.
“We’ve got an exciting crop of players coming through to show desperation and hard work in games is something that everyone wants and will demand from each other,” he said.