The Queensland Reds’ timing might finally be improving, with two of their biggest names set for an Easter Sunday return.
Captain James Slipper and flanker Liam Gill were both positive about their chances of lining up against the Waratahs in Brisbane on Sunday.
The pair have returned to full training in the past fortnight and while they still need to get through the team’s sessions for the remainder of the week.
Slipper has not played since last year’s Rugby World Cup, undergoing off-season shoulder and knee surgeries, while a back stress fracture took Gill out of the opening month of the regular season.
The Reds captain returned to full contact earlier than anticipated and said he was itching to be back among the side on Sunday.
“I think I’m confident in myself to get through and the staff are backing me as well to put me out there and have a go,” he said.
“As i said earlier I’ve done quite a fair bit of scrummaging, contact work, but it’s been quite constructive and controlled so today would be a good indication of where I’m at.
Slipper said being a spectator as the Reds slumped to three straight losses, losing their coach in the process, had been the hardest challenge of his career.
“To have the injury was hard enough and to watch what was going on at the time, not winning games and not playing good rugby, That was really mentally hard on me,” he said.
“At the same time the group has been pretty tight.
“We know we’ve got a job to do and at the end of the day we’re the players so our job is to play rugby and to play rugby well. “
Gill said he was “very confident” of pulling on the Reds jersey for the first time since the trials.
“I’m very confident,” he said.
“I’ve got a few hurdles to jump over like any process in trying to return to play but it feels good to date, everything that I’ve done to date.
“I’ve got a few more serious sessions to get through then, touch wood, with a bit of luck I’ll be back.
For fans, it means a mouthwatering match up between Gill and incumbent Wallabies openside Michael Hooper, a clash of which they were robbed in round one.
While Gill will likely have the edge at the breakdown, with his world class pilfering, the 23-year-old said Hooper remained a threat around the ground.
“He’s very good in that loose space around the rucks,” he said.
“So you know he is going to be ever present.
“When there’s a chance to strike you know he’ll strike.
“Just got to be wary of what he can do and they’ve got a lot of players like that.”
“Their tight five are big, physical players who like to bash blokes instead of taking the ball so we know what’s coming at us.”
The Waratahs will be welcoming their own superstar back for the derby, with flyhalf Bernard Foley all but certain of returning from a shoulder injury.
NSW has just one win from its opening three matches, making this as vital for them as their northern opponents.
Queensland hosts the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday afternoon, kicking off at 4:05pm AEDT.