Best XV in 2018: Queensland Reds

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

The start of the Australian Super Rugby season is no less than five sleeps away.

As the season nears, is previewing each team's best XV, one by one.

We kicked things off with the Rebels and have had a look at the Waratahs so now, it's time to turn our attention north.

Who will lead Brad Thorn's charge at the Reds?

1. James Slipper

James Slipper is raring to go. Photo: WalmsleySlipper has added 5kg of lean muscle upon returning from an achilles injury that cruelled his 2017 and on trial form, he is back better than ever. He will be a cornerstone of a side that needs experienced heads, given its youthful taste.

2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa

The hooker battle was one of Queensland's most intriguing with Paenga-Amosa, Alex Mafi and Andrew Ready all in the fight for the starting spot. Paenga-Amosa has caught Thorn's eye and has been the preferred option through the trials. He fits the Thorn mould in that he is a strong ball carrier, hits mighty hard in defence and is serviceable at set piece. Mafi is similar in style and it wouldn't surprise to see him given a chance to start at some point during the year. The same cannot be said for Ready, who is on the outer.

3. Taniela Tupou

Taniela Tupou will be a force in 2018. Photo: WalmsleyIt's been two seasons since Tupou burst onto the Super Rugby stage and finally, he has a clear run at the top job at tighthead. Tupou's tree trunk legs and explosive speed are well documented but he has come along in leaps and bounds at the scrum, a non-negotiable at Super Rugby level. A big year could see him add to the one Test cap he notched at Murrayfield against Scotland, last year.

4. Izack Rodda

Rodda is conservatively shooting for a round three return but there is some hope he will be right to face the Rebels on Friday night. That would be an enormous boost for the Reds as he is their go to man at lineout time and forms one half of an exciting lock pair. Rodda was one of the finds of the Stiles era and prior to suffering a shoulder injury which required surgery, had worked his way up the ladder to be Australia's number two lock, behind Adam Coleman.

5. Lukhan Tui

Up front, Tui was the other significant find of 2017. His rugby league background has certainly influenced his style of play, as he puts his hand up for more carries than any player in the pack. Like Rodda, the 21-year-old also forced his way into the Wallabies squad last year and with another Super Rugby season under his belt, expect him to figure in that department once again in 2018.

6. Caleb Timu

Timu has been stuck behind a backlog of backrowers in recent years but with Hendrik Tui back in Japan, the 23-year-old will get the chance to make the jersey his own in 2018. Like Tui, Timu's game is built on big carries and bone crunching defence.

7. Adam Korczyk

With George Smith out of action until early April, Korczyk will take charge at openside. The Reds love Korczyk's application around the park but he's not quite a pilfer specialist in the Smith mould, a characteristic Liam Wright boasts. It wouldn't surprise to see Wright given a crack at starting at some point prior to Smith's return, given his high standing both at Ballymore and with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

8. Scott Higginbotham

Scott Higginbotham will lead the Reds. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan HertelA no brainer. The new club captain, Higginbotham was arguably Queensland's best player last year. He has an uncanny ability to finds the try line and has a rare mix of speed and power at No. 8 which makes him a tough man to bring down.

9. James Tuttle

Tuttle usurped Nick Frisby in 2017 and one gets the sense 2018 could be the year he pushes for higher honours. Tuttle is a vocal leader on field, a tough customer in defence and has a reliable pass on either side. Add that to a hefty box kick and astute goal kicking and you have the full package at halfback.

10. Jono Lance

Flyhalf presents the toughest choice for Thorn. The rookie coach summed it up best when he described Lance as an "older version of Hamish" as there is little to separate Lance and Stewart, outside of the eight year age gap. They are both field generals in the sense that they can run an attack with poise, rather than abandon, in the style of former flyhalf Quade Cooper. They are both elite defenders and have a capable passing game which attacks the line. Lance may get first crack but don't be surprised to see Stewart work his way into the top job over the course of the season.

11. Izaia Perese

Perese is in rare form through the preseason. Photo: WalmsleyPerese powered his way into Wallabies calculations in 2017 and he appears ready to go to another level under the guidance of Thorn. He hits as hard as any player in the team, has electric ability with ball in hand and will be critical to Queensland's latest rebuild. A bonafide star.

12. Duncan Paia'aua

There appeared to be some chance Thorn would pair Samu Kerevi with Chris Feauai-Sautia in the centres but he is more likely to roll out Paia'aua, who was arguably the team's most improved player last year. He fits the bill as a secondary playmaker having played flyhalf for the Wallabies against the Barbarians but he is more than capable of finding a gap with ball in hand, too. Question marks remain over his defence, which will be a non-negotiable under Thorn.

13. Samu Kerevi

Another no brainer. A fixture in the Wallabies fold, Kerevi's prolific numbers with ball in hand show no signs of slowing down in 2018. He will have to be at his destructive best to give the Reds a hope of climbing out of the cellar. Like his centre partner, questions remain regarding his defence.

14. Chris Feauai-Sautia

A forgotten Wallaby tortuted by injuries, this could be the year Feauai-Sautia takes Super Rugby by storm. He is leaner and subsequently quicker off the mark but doesn't look to have lost any of the explosiveness which makes him so hard to bring down.

15. Aidan Toua

Toua is similar to Feauai-Sautia in that the early part of his career was hit seriously hard by injuries but last year, at the Brumbies, he put together the best stretch of football through his career to date. While Karmichael Hunt is out of the fold, Toua will be the man calling the shots from behind the defensive line.