Fotuaika's transformation leads to Reds debut

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

Gentle giant Feao Fotuaika was so far from a Super Rugby berth last year, he almost quit the sport.

Working a labouring job and carrying more than 140kg, the front rower seemed a world away from the elite ranks before being spotted by former Wallaby Cameron Lillicrap while playing NRC for Brisbane.

But a commitment to shed weight had Fotuaika in the Reds' sights and his efforts were repaid with a contract in January, and then this week being named at loosehead prop for Queensland's Super Rugby opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night.

Reds coach Brad Thorn has instilled a hard-working ethos in his squad and there are few more pleased for Fotuaika to make his debut.

"He's a guy that Cameron Lillicrap spotted in the Brisbane team in the NRC and he mentioned him to me," Thorn said.

We chatted with him and he made a decision that he wanted to have a real crack at this.

"We brought him on board and he was on a contract until Christmas only to see where he was at and Bryn (Reds strength and conditioning coach Bryn Abad) has just been massive with his conditioning.

"I think he was a 140kg plus guy down into the 120s now.

"He's done a lot of hard work and he's respected in the group and it's a special one for him."

Fotuaika has, in fact, lost more than 16kg, with his progress convincing Thorn to start him in the No.1 jersey where he will partner Wallabies Taniela Tupou and Brandon Paenga-Amosa in the front row of Queensland's much-vaunted scrum.

While there was plenty of interest in the centre pairing of captain Samu Kerevi and Wallabies teen wonder Jordan Petaia, they will have little ability to impress if the engine room does not fire first.

Thorn, who played for the Highlanders for two seasons in Super Rugby and grew up around Dunedin, will be all business on Friday as the Reds attempt to gain a New Zealand scalp for the first time since their one-point win over the Highlanders in April 2016.

"There's definitely a feeling inside when you come back - a familiarity - and it's just nice to be back here," Thorn said.

"I'll catch up with a few relatives but we're here to do a job.

"We'll be giving our best effort.

"They are a tough prospect but that's what it's all about, it's Super Rugby.

"We're looking forward to the game and the occasion and working hard for each other and getting a result."

The Reds take on the Highlanders on Friday, February 23, at Forsyth Barr Stadium, kicking off at 5:35pm AEDT (7:35pm local and 4:35pm in Queensland), LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via radio.