The Queensland Reds had a dose of horrendous on and off-field luck in 2015 but with a bunch of new faces in the squad can they capitalise on a fresh start?
INS AND OUTS
IN: Kane Douglas (Leinster), Ben Mwatwijow (Canterbury), Cadeyrn Neville (Rebels), Eto Nabuli (St George Illawarra), Ayumu Goromaru (Yamaha)
OUT: Will Genia (Stade Francais), Quade Cooper (Toulon), James Horwill (Harlequins), James Hanson (Rebels), Adam Thomson (Rebels), Ben Tapuai (Force), James O’Connor (Toulon), Dave McDuling (Agen), Ed Quirk (Sunwolves), Beau Robinson (Harlequins), Lachie Turner (Toulon, Exeter)
Injuries: James Slipper (shoulder and knee), Kane Douglas (ACL), Lolo Fakosilea (hamstring), Adam Korzcyk (ACL)
The Reds went down in both their trials - first to the Crusaders 31-3 and then the Brumbies 31-18. If anyone knows that trials should be taken with a grain of salt, though, it’s the Reds .They had a flying preseason last year but couldn’t carry it into the season after a horror injury toll. Showed improvement from their first to second trial and will hope to start on a positive note.
Why they can win
The Reds have one of the best set pieces in Super Rugby. It was their impressive scrum performances that helped Greg Holmes get back into the Wallabies squad for the first time since 2007. Rob Simmons has proven himself as a critical lineout piece at both national and Test level but the Reds couldn’t manage to grow the link between their back line.
Where they need to improve
Their playmakers will need to step up this season. Young flyhalf Jake McIntyre will be calling the shots and will need all the support he can get. Their backline connection struggled in the absence of a genuine flyhalf in 2015 but with a bunch of new faces and lot more continuity, coach Richard Graham will be hoping for more success in attack.
Superstar: Liam Gill
He might not have the marketing pull of new Japanese sensation Ayumu Goromaru but Liam Gill is a genuine Rugby A-lister.. Could be considered the Stuart McGill of the Wallabies scenes at the moment, after missing the World Cup squad despite an impressive season. A runaway Stan Pilecki Medallist in 2015, by the largest margin in the club’s history. Off to France in 2016-17 but could still push for Wallabies spots for June Tests and Rugby Championship.
X Factor: Ayumu Goromaru
That this spot is not occupied by Quade Cooper is a sign of the new era the Reds have entered this season. While it’s yet to be seen exactly the on-field impact of the Reds’ biggest international signing, the Japanese Test fullback has kept tongues wagging off the field, with a massive media pull. A super accurate kicker with a long boot, Goromaru brings a different element to the Reds backline. Will be in a tight competition with Karmichael Hunt for the 15 jersey this season.
Rising star: Samu Kerevi
He might have just passed the threshold of a rising star but at just 22, there’s plenty more in store for the Fijian. It’s not hard to imagine Samu Kerevi donning Wallabies colours for the first time in 2016. Though the bullocking centre is likely to play outside centre and thus compete with Tevita Kuridrani for Test spots, if he continues to improve he’ll be hard to completely overlook.
What the coach says
“Bringing the youth in, they’re unburdened by the past, that's a nice thing. With that inexperience there’s an opportunity and they understand that opportunity to get better and they’re ambitious, they’re urgent, they’re enthusiastic. We’re looking to be consistent on a weekly basis."