Nick Stiles had the kind of selection headaches most coaches dream of going into last night’s trial and the telling 32-13 win will turn those headaches into migraines.
The Reds launched into their defensive work with an insatiable appetite, beat out early nervous energy to arrest the initial flow of handling errors and - guided by the firm hand of Quade Cooper - attacked the Rebels with explicit direction, creating genuine hope that a revival is around the corner for the 1700 strong crowd at Ballymore.
While preseason trials are largely unreliable form guides when it comes time to play for Super Rugby points, the performances of fringe starters Duncan Paia’aua, Chris Kuridrani, Adam Korczyk and Andrew Ready show there is substance in the depth of the squad that has been built at Ballymore.
Korczyk and Ready starting ahead of 100-plus cap Wallabies George Smith and Stephen Moore respectively in Friday week’s Round 1 clash against the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium would be a genuine bolt from the blue but Paia’aua and Kuridrani’s performances will see them very hard to bypass at team selection next week.
Eto Nabuli, Lachlan Maranta, Izaia Perese and Kuridrani are all competing for two starting wing spots and it was Nabuli and Kuridrani that made the most impact last night.
The Reds’ brain trust are understandably taken by young Perese’s power packed game that combines dazzling footwork and a sharp turn of foot with elite natural strength but Kuridrani will continue to push for a starting berth if he continues to play at the level he did last night.
After finishing a slick Reds attacking movement with five points when he first touched the football, Kuridrani made several strong runs, including one right-foot-step filled 50 metre run up the middle of the field.
“I was extremely impressed with Chris Kuridrani’s performance - if you’ve seen him play over the last year or two he just hasn’t looked happy, he hasn’t enjoyed his football and today you saw a flying Fijian out there running the ball exceptionally hard,” Stiles said.
Paia’aua made the strongest case to start of all the fringe players last night.
He linked with Cooper and Karmichael Hunt in seamless fashion, taking some heat off the chief playmaker and allowing Samu Kerevi to carry the ball at his tackle-busting best at outside centre.
Stiles has been toying with the idea of playing Kerevi at 12 with Campbell Magnay at 13 but Paia’aua looks to have matured into the player the Reds envisioned when they brought him to the club from the Brisbane Broncos U20s in 2015.
“Having that ball distributor at 12 gives you a bit of extra width in your game and having a really strong, powerful runner like Samu outside of him is pretty exciting,” Stiles said on Paia’aua.
“It also takes a bit of pressure of Quade so that he doesn’t have to be the man all the time.”
The Reds will take on the Sharks in their opening Super Rugby match on Friday February 24.