Reds embracing road less travelled as journeyman Smith eyes 50-game milestone

Tue, Apr 9, 2024, 6:00 AM
Lachlan Grey
by Lachlan Grey

Reds coach Les Kiss is eager to embrace the road less travelled - and one of his own - ahead of Queensland's Round 8 Super Rugby Pacific clash in Whangarei.

The sixth-placed Reds will tackle eighth-placed Moana Pasifika on Friday in the heart of New Zealand's Northland region, a three-hour drive north of Auckland.

Catch every game of Super Rugby Pacific LIVE on Stan Sport.

Whangarei's Semenoff Stadium hosted two Wallaroos wins during the 2022 Rugby World Cup and has already tasted Super Rugby this year with the Blues-Drua clash in Round 1.

"It brings excitement and opportunity. You don't get the chance to go over there often. It's a fantastic place and the boys are excited by that," Kiss told media on Tuesday.

"But we're also playing a team that's got the bit between their teeth. The score lines may not show it but they're hungry, committed, and keep coming back."

Moana have struggled since their Round 4 away win in Perth, dropping their past three games to the Brumbies, Blues and Chiefs by an average of 44 points.

But Queensland lock Ryan Smith told rugby.com.au their rivals' form meant little ahead of crucial game following a Reds bye and consecutive losses to the Force and Brumbies.

"We were really frank and honest in our conversation about what we need for this weekend. Violence and brutality and being really accurate were all at the forefront of the conversations," Smith said.

"It's really important we keep our eye on the ball - we can't look at (Moana's) results as an indicator of what they're going to be like this weekend.

"We know even deep into games, they're fierce competitors and they step up. They're really physical guys so it should be a great hit-out this weekend."

"Fierce competitor" and "physical" could just as well be applied to Smith, who has impressed over 400 minutes in 2024 thus far with 98 per cent tackle efficiency and key roles in Queensland's set piece and breakdown.

Now, the 27-year-old is set to reach an impressive milestone of his own with Kiss revealing will earn a 50th Super Rugby cap against Moana over the ditch.

It's a far cry from the former Brothers ressie who began juggling Reds duties with his role as an air conditioning contractor in 2020 but a milestone match in far-flung Whangarei seems fitting for Smith's unusual rugby journey.

"I was really happy to even get one game for the Reds. now to be potentially getting 50 is amazing and something I didn't foresee happening," Smith said.

"We've got lots of guys and heaps of depth, plenty of guys who can step up and start in the row. The pre-season was super competitive and we're all working our arses off to get into those first few games.

"A lot of that breakdown stuff for me is really important, trying to be brutal and violent at those breakdowns is probably my next step."

Kiss paid tribute to Smith ahead of his milestone game.

"To put that Red jersey on 50 times, I think it's ambition of most people to get at least that and then move on from there, but you know I've only been involved in it six or seven times," Kiss said.

"He's played brilliantly and his work rate is exceptional. What he does around the park allows the backrow to play like they do and our backs to do what they do."

One player who is certain to miss selection is James O'Connor with Kiss telling media the Wallaby veteran was still "weeks" away from his injury return.

"He won't be with us for another couple of weeks. I'm very keen to make sure that doesn't move too quickly. It's still a long season and a long way to go so he won't be travelling."

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