2018 Super Rugby season preview: Reds

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

The Brad Thorn era has arrived at Ballymore.

With Thorn at the helm and a new captain in Scott Higginbotham, an intriguing year lies ahead.

Movement

IN: Jono Lance, Aidan Toua, Ben Lucas, Filipo Daugunu, Liam Wright, Harry Hoopert, JP Smith, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Angus Blyth, Harry Hockings, Angus Scott-Young, Tate McDermott, Teti Tela

OUT: Rob Simmons, Stephen Moore, Campbell Magnay, Hendrik Tui, Nick Frisby, Leroy Houston, Jake McIntyre, Henry Taefu, Chris Kuridrani, Cadeyrn Neville, Sam Talakai, Kirwan Sanday, Phil Kite

Who they'll miss most: Campbell Magnay

Michael Cheika has been impressed with Campbell Magnay. Photo: Getty ImagesWith Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt still contracted, they aren't included in the squad's list of outs and are therefore ineligible in this category. Magnay is back in Brisbane following the conclusion of Suntory's Top League but he won't feature for the Reds, departing the club at the end of last season. With Izaia Perese injured Queensland is already looking light on in the outside backs department and Magnay would be a perfect fit for Thorn's style of play. He hits hard, runs harder and is as tough as teak. Add that package to elite athleticism and you have a 21-year-old that was ready to take Super Rugby by storm in similar style to Perese. He will be sorely missed.

Boom recruit: Aidan Toua

Aidan Toua will be a big addition for the Reds. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan HertelThe recruits in the Reds ranks are hardly headline stars in the mould of David Pocock's return to Canberra, Kurtley Beale's to Sydney or any one of the stars arriving in Melbourne. Aidan Toua and Jono Lance are the most noteworthy additions, with the former filling the hole left by Karmichael Hunt, for now. Toua has long been a player of great promise but his career was an injury ridden one through his last stint at Ballymore. Having put a strong season together in Brumbies colours, Toua will bring his slippery runs and a hefty left boot to a team that desperately needs a player of his experience. 

MVP: Chris Feauai-Sautia

Chris Feauai-Sautia could be a pivotal player for Queensland. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan HertelGoing left field here. Feauai-Sautia is in the shape of his career and looks ready to take his game to a new level. Knee and hamstring injuries destroyed his 2017 but with boom youngster Izaia Perese now sidelined until early April, the spotlight may turn to Feauai-Sautia. He will get every chance to flourish under Thorn, who has come to love the way the 24-year-old busts tackles with nearly every touch and hunts proactively for work in defence. A big season will put the two Test Wallaby back on the map of Michael Cheika.

Rising star: Taniela Tupou

Taniela Tupou will be one to watch again in 2018. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyTupou may have occupied this spot this time last year but once again, with Perese out, the Tongan Thor shapes as the team's most exciting prospect. By the back half of last season he had made significant strides to displace Sam Talakai as Nick Stiles' first choice tighthead and did not look back. A Test debut followed at Murrayfield after an enormous NRC campaign with Queensland Country and he now gets first crack at the top job under Thorn. Should Tupou flourish for the entirety of a Super Rugby season, expect him to figure as a regular part of the Wallabies' 2018 campaign.

Most to prove: Andrew Ready

Andrew Ready and the Reds have been big improvers on Day Two. Photo: rugby.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyReady is a longshot to  get first crack at hooker with both Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Alex Mafi in front of him in Thorn's pecking order. Once thought to be a future Wallaby, Ready is now faced with a career crossroads. While Paenga-Amosa and Mafi are both promising players, Ready must fight his way into the 23 at some point this season or his fate will lie abroad.

What the coach says: "The last four years have been pretty bleak - 62 games, we have won 16 - something has got to change and it's not going to be all rosy.

"I could have just kept on cruising along with everyone happy but there needed to be change - just like their did with the NRC side." - Brad Thorn.

Aussie Conference prediction: 4th

At the very least, Queensland will improve on the defensive end in 2018. Thorn will demand his players perform on that side of the ball and if they don't, they'll be shown the door. But defence can only get a team so far and there looks to be very few game breakers in this side - even more so with the absence of Perese. Thorn may very well galvanise this team and drag them up the Australian Conference standings but depth remains an issue and on sheer talent, the other three Australian clubs have far more to work with. Rugby games aren't played nor won on paper and that's the hope Reds fans can cling onto, as things are looking a tad bleak.

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