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By Steve Zemek, The Queensland Times
When asked to explain his 2012 late-season surge of career-best form, James Slipper reaches for his head and gives the side of his skull several scratches.
It is not as if the Reds prop has not deliberated long and hard about it - he has even consulted Reds director of coaching Ewen McKenzie, one of the country's best rugby minds, on the subject.
Offered the observation the source of his added motivation could have been missing the side's 2011 Super Rugby championship win, Slipper, 23, pauses for thought and says it is something he has pondered himself.
There are few in the Reds line-up who would value a premiership in 2013 more than Slipper. The pain of missing the side's grand final win over the Crusaders in 2011 still burns bright.
He was a standout in the side's championship run that year but an ankle injury put him out of the Reds' semi-final.
He returned last year like a man possessed - playing every game of the campaign and polling a record number of votes to win the club's player-of-the year award.
When the side went into its last three games balanced precariously on the edge of finals contention and needing a perfect finish to the regular rounds, it was Slipper who stepped up.
He scored the side's lone try against the Highlanders in round 17, crossed for the Queenslanders against the Waratahs a week later and earned man-of-the-match honours in the Reds' qualifying-final loss to the Sharks.
"You could say that," he said when asked if the pain of missing the 2011 grand final had inspired his purple patch of form last season.
"I was filthy that I didn't play the grand final. It would have been great if we played in it last year, but it wasn't to be and all I can say is hopefully we get it this year."
Slipper will captain the Reds in their final pre-season trial, against the Chiefs at Stockland Sunshine Coast Stadium tomorrow night, following the late withdrawal of James Horwill.
SLIPPER was handed his biggest accolade when awarded a Wallabies run-on spot in his preferred position of tighthead against the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium last October following an injury to Ben Alexander.
With the holy grail of representative honours - a start for his country against the British and Irish Lions - again looming this year, you could not blame Slipper for having one eye on the horizon.
He flatly says, however, that is not the case.
"To be honest, I've literally been thinking about the start of the Reds' season," he said.
"Playing well for the Reds gives you the best chance to play for the Wallabies, so that's what I've been doing.
"I'm in the best nick I've ever been in at this time of the year since I've started playing. Everything so far is going well.
"Obviously, the goal is to represent your country - and the Lions only come every 12 years, so it'd be an honour to play."
The Chiefs have named a near full-strength side, featuring six All Blacks, for tomorrow night's clash.
Chiefs Squad: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Mahonri Schwalger, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Romana Graham, 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Sam Kane, 8. Kane Thompson, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12. Andrew Horrell, 13. Charlie Ngatai, 14. TBA, 15. Tim Nanai-Williams. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Augustine Pulu, Fritz Lee, Pauliasi Manu, Ben Afeaki, Gareth Anscombe, Craig Clarke, Michael Fitzgerald, Bundee Aki, Nick Crosswell, Tanerau Latimer, Maritino Nemani, Patrick Osborne.
The popularity of rugby in Japan has continued to grow ahead of their inclusion in the 2016 Super Rugby competition.