Firm culture stance gives leg-up to Aussie rivals: Thorn

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

Reds coach Brad Thorn admits his hardline stance on culture and drugs will help his Australian Conference rivals in 2019, as Queensland strive to escape the Super Rugby cellar.

Quade Cooper, Karmichael Hunt and James Slipper have all found new homes at the Rebels, Waratahs and Brumbies respectively and that leaves Thorn’s squad without the off field distractions which plagued his first season in charge.

All three were no longer part of Thorn’s plans but given they were all still contracted this year, the softly-spoken coach was within his rights to keep them in Queensland and out of the hands of his rivals.

Instead, Thorn agreed to release the trio from their contracts to continue their careers, and Melbourne happily picked up a 70-Test playmaker, the Brumbies promptly add an 86-Test prop to their roster and the Waratahs increased their depth by taking on a seasoned dual international.

Though it wasn't enough to change his mind, Thorn admits he considered the fact that he would be giving his conference rivals a leg-up, both in experience and in the knowledge all three departed men will be motivated to play the house down when they meet the Reds.

“Definitely. Quade, Slips, Karmichael, you’re aware that they’re going to be hard to come up against,” Thorn told RUGBY.com.au.

“But on the other side of that you wish them well.

“Now they get an opportunity there to make the most of that.

“You now have Will and Quade together after all that time and it will be exciting to see how that plays out.”

As Cooper, Hunt and Slipper departed they took more than 160 Test caps with them and while some may wince at that number, Thorn has recruited wisely.

Bryce Hegarty and Sefa Naivalu complement a youthful, industrious forward pack and a playmaking core which must make another leap but the most valuable recruits of all may be in the coaching box.

Peter Ryan and Jim McKay will flank Thorn and they bring decades of experience to the table. More importantly, they are mighty familiar with success.

Their time inside successful teams appealed to Thorn, who knows all too well what it takes to win titles.

He also remembers the pain caused by the 2011 Super Rugby final loss to the Reds.

Most fans will remember that team as the Cooper-Genia show and rightfully so, but McKay’s adaptable, attack-first approach was integral to the team’s success.

“They weren’t predictable, they could play unstructured as well as structured play,” Thorn said.

“They were respected and they had some good weapons there.

“They had a half and a five-eighth who were a really good combination and they had threats out wide which were very dangerous, if you remember.

“It’s good to have Jim on board.

“He’s feeling good about the group and what he sees and he’s been going to work with them.

“We want to play some entertaining footy so it will be interesting to see how things pan out.”

Neither Thorn nor his playing group have hidden their ambition in the very limited media they have done to date this year.

They have their eyes on an eventual title run and while that may not come this year, there is a genuine belief that finals football is an achievable goal.

Thorn asks, why not us?

“Any team that says they don’t want to be playing finals at the start of a season… I reckon why turn up?” he said.

“We want to be in finals and once you get to finals it’s a new competition. It starts again.

“That’s a real goal for us, this year.”

There is plenty of water to go under the bridge before July arrives but between now and then, the future of Thorn’s most important player must be settled.

He handpicked Samu Kerevi as the leader of this young group but rumours continue to swirl regarding his future beyond 2019.

Thorn has heard the whispers and issued a challenge to his new skipper in response.

“There comes a time where you want to get some stuff done,” he said.

“A lot of players play into their 30s and you want everyone to travel and go overseas and make good coin and that but there is a window where you want to be part of some stuff and win some stuff and internationally be part of some stuff.

“That’s how I felt anyway.

“Samu is a passionate Queenslander and he will make his own decision and whatnot at but I would definitely like him to be staying here.”

Securing Kerevi on a long term deal would give Queensland fans hope.

Turning a six win season into 10 wins and finals football would give the diehards more than hope and Thorn expects nothing less.

“I would be disappointed if there wasn’t some improvement there. Guys are working really hard,” Thorn said.

“I felt like there was a good vibe that came around with this group last year and we want to entertain.

“I would like to think that our style of footy and Jim McKay and that style of attack, wearing that maroon jersey, representing Queensland and you have a group of lads that are going to rip in.

“I would like to think we will get more and more support.

“I guess we’ll see how that goes.”