Wallabies Kerevi, Petaia to pair in centres for Reds

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

The Reds have named Wallabies Samu Kerevi and Jordan Petaia as their midfield combination for their opening Super Rugby clash of the season against the Highlanders.

Queensland's five spring tourists - Kerevi, Petaia, Sefa Naivalu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Izack Rodda, have all been named for the round two clash on Friday following the Reds' bye in the opening week of the season.

The starting centre combination has been one of the great riddles of the pre-season, with a variety of players used at 12 and 13 throughout the trials and in training.

New captain Kerevi's move to inside centre seems to have been sealed with his naming at 12 ahead of Duncan Paia'aua, who has been named one the bench, while young gun Petaia has been preferred to Chris Feauai-Sautia (wing) at outside centre.

Coach Brad Thorn had toyed with the monster pairing of Kerevi and Feauai-Sautia but Petaia's continued development has been rewarded with a move off the flank into the midfield, where the Reds will look to use his speed and flair against a Highlanders side boasting four All Blacks.

Three players will make their Queensland debut on Friday, with Souths prop Feao Fotuaika, who considered quitting the game before shedding a massive amount of weight in the off-season, to start in the front row.

Wallaby Sefa Naivalu makes his debut on the wing, while former Rebel and Waratah Bryce Hegarty has won the fullback jersey, as expected.

Backrower Fraser McReight and utility back Isaac Lucas could also make their Queensland and Super Rugby debuts after being included on the bench.

Wallaby Izack Rodda, who was rested completely from the Reds trials, makes his first appearance for 2019 as vice-captain.

Thorn congratulated the new caps and potential debutants.

"As a group, we congratulate all the new men on their Queensland selection," he said.

"Feao is a feel-good story. He was out-of-shape and on the verge of giving up the game.

"We identified him playing club rugby last year and his transformation since has been something to admire.

"(Working with) Brynley Abad (strength and conditioning head coach) and Cameron Liliicrap (scrum coach), Feao has dropped 16 kilos in the pre-season and his scrummaging is now very dominant."

Hegarty's experience has been welcomed by a Reds' side whose average age before his arrival sat around 23.

"Bryce has been rock-solid since joining us," Thorn said.

"He offers versatility in the backline and is a great communicator, while we're excited to see Sefa show off his skills for the first time in a maroon jersey. The two of them bring good experience and have been great around the group.

"The Highlanders are a quality team. It's tough to win in Dunedin, so we'll need to be at our best and execute what we've worked on."

It was a happy 100 for Aaron Smith. Photo: Getty Images

Meanwhile, All Blacks stars Waisake Naholo and Aaron Smith are among four All Blacks promoted into the Highlanders starting team.

Powerhouse winger Naholo will make his first appearance of the year while influential halfback Smith is promoted from the bench to create headaches for the Reds, who will play their first match of the Super Rugby season after sitting out an opening round bye.

There are five starting changes in total for the Highlanders, including a starting upgrade for flankers Shannon Frizell and Dillon Hunt, who both made Test debuts last year.

Teihorangi Walden replaces Thomas Umaga-Jensen at inside centre in the fifth change from the team who charged home late to beat the Chiefs 30-27 in the competition opener at Hamilton last week.

Smith and Frizell played major parts as the Highlanders overcame the red card shown to reserve back Patelesio Tomkinson in the 67th minute for a shoulder charge, scoring the final 10 points of the game.

Tomkinson will have the card removed from his record though after a SANZAAR judicial committee hearing on Wednesday ruled that All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick had fallen into the tackle and "the incident appeared to be more significant than it was".

"The committee had the benefit of lengthy analysis and review of the footage and the other evidence which enabled it to determine that there was no contact to the head by the player and no foul play," a statement said.

"The judicial committee was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the referee was wrong in issuing the red card.

"The committee determined to remove the red card from the player's record."

Tomkinson, who came off the bench last week, is free to play on Friday night but was not named for the Highlanders ahead of the hearing.

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 RUGBY.com.au radio.

 

TEAMS

Reds

1. Feao Fotuaika

2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa

3. Taniela Tupou

4. Izack Rodda (vc)

5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto

6. Angus Scott-Young

7. Liam Wright

8. Caleb Timu

9. Moses Sorovi

10. Hamish Stewart

11. Sefa Naivalu

12. Samu Kerevi (c)

13. Jordan Petaia

14. Chris Feauai-Sautia

15. Bryce Hegarty

Reserves

16. Alex Mafi

17. Harry Hoopert

18. Ruan Smith

19. Harry Hockings

20. Fraser McReigh

21. Tate McDermott

22. Duncan Paia'aua

23. Isaac Lucas

 

Highlanders

1. Ayden Johnstone

2. Liam Coltman

3. Tyrel Lomax

4. Jackson Hemopo

5. Josh Dickson

6. Shannon Frizell

7. Dillon Hunt

8. Luke Whitelock (cc)

9. Aaron Smith

10. Josh Ioane

11. Tevita Li

12. Teihorangi Walden

13. Rob Thompson

14. Waisake Naholo

15. Ben Smith (cc)

Reserves

16. Ash Dixon

17. Daniel Lienert-Brown

18. Siate Tokolahi

19. Jack Whetton

20. Marino Mikaele Tu’u

21. Kayne Hammington

22. Marty Banks

23. Matt Faddes