The tantalising prospect of facing NSW at Suncorp drew a “desperate” rehab effort out of Queensland Reds captain James Slipper.
Slipper will return off the bench for his side against the Waratahs on Sunday, his first appearance since knee and shoulder surgeries, procedures that were originally slated to rule him out for half the year.
The 26-year-old has ticked all of his rehab milestones off ahead of schedule but with full confidence from club medical staff, who have had him in one on one and full scrummaging tests in the past fortnights..
Reds co-coach Nick Stiles said Slipper was determined to return for this weekend’s derby, a sign of how much the rivalry means to him.
“They (the medical staff) had a very clear program for him that put him in the position if he ticked the boxes in his progression, he was a potential to play this weekend,” he said.
“Slips, being the captain, he was desperate to be involved in this game.”
The luxury of bringing their skipper off the bench in the final stages of what could be a tight match will be an added bonus for the Reds, who have struggled to close out games against the Rebels and Blues in recent weeks.
“Bringing on your team captain off the bench in the second half of a tight game’s going to be crucial for us,” he said.
“His ability to really pull the troops together and provide a calm head will be very important for us. Slips has really grown as a leader over the last couple of years and it’s a role that he’s relishing now,.
“He’s been very vocal this week in talking up the importance of this game, the rivalry that there is with NSW and demanding absolute physicality from us to go towards winning the game.”
If it’s combative physicality the Reds are after, the Waratahs have moved in the other direction with their derby selections.
Young flanker Jack Dempsey has come into the starting side at blindside, pushing Dave Dennis into the locks, with Will Skelton heading back to club Rugby for a week.
Stiles said it was a marker of a new era at the Waratahs, away from the physical intimidation that characterised the Michael Cheika years.
“The Waratahs’ success under Michael Cheika was built around brute force and physicality and to be removing Skelton is a massive change to be making,” Stiles said.
‘The players that have been brought into start - Holloway and Dempsey - show they’re probably going to play more of an upbeat mobile forward pack than what they’ve traditionally played over the past few years.”