The Queensland Reds expect improvement in 2016 and head coach Richard Graham knows pre-season is critical to that goal.
In the 2015 pre-season, the Reds were plagued with injuries before round one as their stars fell one by one, while others played through pain.
It was an omen for a season that never really gained momentum, Graham said.
“Whenever you’re sitting at the back end of the table there’s a air bit of frustration,” he said.
“There were a lot of things last year in terms of the injuries and so forth where we just struggled to get a little bit of momentum, a little bit of consistency.
“We hope we’ve addressed that with a couple of the changes we’ve made to the staff and I think we’ve also made some really positive changes to the coaching staff.”
“Last year we started with 14 players not available for selection. The start hurt the momentum and you’re always chasing from there.
“This season I’m comfortable with the squad we’ve got and looking forward to how we build over the next 9-10 weeks.”
The Reds bolstered their coaching ranks over the off-season, bringing in Matt O’Connor from Leinster as attack coach, Damian Marsh taking control of their high performance and Cameron Lillicrap the team’s physio.
While Graham definitively ruled out the possibility of veteran All Black lock Brad Thorn playing, his influence could prove to be a major one as he mentors the extended squad’s forwards.
For the first time since 2006, the Reds will start a season without Quade Cooper, James Horwill and Will Genia and the reality of the new era set in when they announced their final squad on Tuesday.
With eight new faces, it’s the halves that will once again be a focus as Sam Greene and Jake McIntyre the contenders for 10, while Nick Frisby looms as the obvious replacement for Genia at halfback.
Queensland have had two early blows with injuries to James Slipper (shoulder) and Kane Douglas (knee) that could see them out for extended periods but the remainder of their 37-man squad is fit.
Despite those absences, Graham said the focus was on improvement with just over three months until their season opener against the Waratahs.
“I think right here and now the expectation’s improvement,” he said.
“We don’t want to be sitting where we are at the moment, we want to be better than where we’ve been.
“But as I say it’s where we start the season, how we approach pre-season to get those young boys and the senior squad ready for Super Rugby.”
One player who will need to improve after a rough initiation on and off the field will be Karmichael Hunt.
Hunt showed promise for Brisbane City in this year’s NRC season and Graham said he would expect to play a bigger role in the Reds team this season.
“He just needed game time, no one’s ever doubted the quality of the footballer, changing codes and particularly coming from AFL it was always going to be a transition,” he said.
“I certainly think the NRC has given him a level of confidence and better understanding and feel for the game.”
“Everyone here’s dealt with him and understands he’s very keen to do the best in everything he does and his approach over the last couple of days has been excellent."