Reds, Waratahs sweating on player availability ahead of Super Rugby openers

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

The Reds and Waratahs are sweating on the availability of key players heading into Super Rugby's opening round next week after Queensland prevailed 28-19 in a testing trial in Dalby on Friday night.

Waratahs playmaker Mack Mason limped off the field with a groin strain in the second half and while coach Rob Penney is not yet sure of its severity, it could open the door for Junior Wallabies Will Harrison or Mark Nawaqanitawase to start against the Crusaders.

Queensland meanwhile, are sweating on the fitness of several key forwards, including Wallabies lock Izack Rodda (ankle) and front-rowers JP Smith (knee) and Harry Hoopert (neck), who missed both trials while recovering from injury and off-season surgery.

The Reds hope the rain that arrived with them on the Darling Downs this week will help break the drought just as they managed to snap their own lengthy dry spell against NSW with a 28-19 victory over their fierce rivals in front of 3500 passionate fans in Dalby.

The Waratahs scored two late tries to make the score look respectable but a slew of handling errors and a dominant performance from the Queensland forwards cruelled their chances.

The trial was the final pre-season hit-out for both teams and will have given coaches Brad Thorn and Rob Penney plenty of food for thought, with their Junior Wallabies pushing for places in round one next week.

While Kurtley Beale could yet play at flyhalf, Harrison could make his Super Rugby debut at no.10 after leading his team around the field capably in the first half and in the final stages when Mason was off the field.

But the efforts of Mark Nawaqanitawase - playing on the wing after a star turn at fullback last week - could give Penney food for thought.

"(Mason) looks to have a bit of a groin, I don't know too much detail yet," Penney said, although coy on the way forward if it keeps him sidelined next week.

"If he's not available, that will impact on the fact that he's not available. You deal with the injuries as they come about.

"It's not a position we have a great deal of depth in but as the week unfolds, we'll get more information on Mack and see where it leads."

Penney would not be drawn on whether Harrison would debut.

"Will was efficient. He's a talented young man and he played well," he said.

"Obviously there's a bit of water to go under the bridge around our review, get a closer look at some of the detailed stuff around why things didn't happen for us today as we would have liked and then based on that information, we'll be know who the group are for the Crusaders match."

The Reds escaped the match injury-free, something that pleased Thorn, who is likely to gamble on several players for round one who have not played a minute in the pre-season.

"We're hoping that those guys will be available, they've been working hard," Thorn said.

"Big Izack Rodda I think could have played two weeks ago but they stuck to the thing that (the medical staff) wanted him to do and that's really good. And the same with JP.

"It would have been perfect if it would have been a normal season start but it is what it is and every other team is dealing with the short season."

Rodda is returning from an ankle cleanout after the World Cup, while Smith had surgery on both knees over the off-season. Hoopert is recovering from a neck injury that was aggravated during the NRC season and kept him out of his hometown trial on Friday night. 


The Waratahs scored two late tries to make the score look respectable but a slew of handling errors and a dominant performance from the Queensland forwards cruelled their chances.

"The result was not what we were after, it wasn't in the plan. But you've got to give a lot of Reds, they played really well and they comprehensively beat us," Penney said.

"It's a disappointing final hit-out for us. The positives are we integrated four Wallaby boys back, they haven't had an y rugby and it's still the end of January, so it's been a very quick turnaround for the boys to get their heads around the footy stuff.

"We took a step backwards from last week, I guess but the quality of the Reds was the telling factor."

Thorn was pleased with the step up in intensity after last week's rout of the Rebels.

"What I liked about today was just seeing some rugby get played by both sides," he said.

"Just the calibre of player was different this week, from the Waratahs, which actually helps the flow of the game. Last week was a little bit slow. When you get two teams that are competitive, it just helps the game.

"There was some footy played - them coming at us, us coming at them. There was some skill displayed - tip-ons, offloads, some good shapes there and some opportunities to work hard in (defence)."

The teams were locked 7-7 at halftime after scoring a try each but the Reds ran away with the game in the second half, scoring three unanswered tries before the Waratahs crossed twice late in the game to add some respectability to the scoreline.

NSW prop Tom Robertson crossed for the first points of the night and the Tahs had the best of the early stages, with Nawaqanitawase - playing on the wing this week with Kurtley Beale returning to fullback - showing his flair again, flying high to take a Will Harrison cross-kick before managing a one-handed offload to Karmichael Hunt, who spilled it forward.

New Red Henry Speight had missed the first tackle on Nawaqanitawase but made up for it with a hit on Hunt that jolted the ball loose before making the most of a neat combination between James O'Connor and Isaac Lucas that put him into space.

It was another junior Wallaby that opened the account for Queensland though.

Harry Wilson showed why he is pushing for a starting spot in round one, plucking the ball from the back of the scrum and breaking through a Michael Hooper tackle to reach out and plant the ball over the line.

 The Reds defence received a test in the latter stages of the half, with Angus Blyth sin binned for a high tackle.

After a staid first half, it was all Queensland in the opening minutes of the second half.

Teen centre Jordan Petaia had few chances in his 40-minute stint in the first half - a game that marked his Reds return after an injury-cruelled Super Rugby season in 2019 - but replacement outside centre Hunter Paisami took only minutes to make an impact, finding space and offloading to Jock Campbell, who crossed for a try.

It opened the floodgates for the Reds, with captain Liam Wright scoring from an ugly rolling maul and replacement halfback Moses Sorovi racing over after Sam Wallis showed great hands to pick up a ball from Brandon Paenga-Amosa after the hooker barged through the line.

The Tahs turned things around in the final 10 minutes with Harrison taking on the line and darting through a gap to score, before Nawaqanitawase touched down in the corner in the dying minutes.

RESULT

REDS 28

Tries: Wilson, Campbell, Wright, Sorovi

Cons: Hegarty, Campbell 3

WARATAHS 19

Tries: Robertson, Harrison, Nawaqanitawase

Cons: Harrison 2

TEAMS

Reds

1. Dane Zander

2. Alex Mafi

3. Taniela Tupou

4. Angus Blyth

5. Tuaina Taii Tualima

6. Angus Scott-Young

7. Liam Wright (c) 

8. Harry Wilson

9. Tate McDermott

10. Isaac Lucas

11. Henry Speight

12. James O’Connor

13. Jordan Petaia

14. Jock Campbell

15. Bryce Hegarty 

Reserves

16. Brandon Paenga-Amosa

17. Dave Feao

18. Josh Nasser

19. Ryan Smith

20. Seru Uru

21. Moses Sorovi

22. Hamish Stewart

23. Ilaisa Droasese

24. Chris Feauai-Sautia

25. Sam Wallis

26. Hunter Paisami 

Waratahs

1. Tom Robertson

2. Robbie Abel

3. Harry Johnson-Holmes

4. Tom Staniforth

5. Rob Simmons (c)

6. Jack Dempsey

7. Michael Hooper

8. Jed Holloway

9. Jake Gordon

10. Will Harrison

11. Alex Newsome

12. Karmichael Hunt

13. Lalakai Foketi

14. Mark Nawaqanitawase

15. Kurtley Beale

Reserves

16. Damien Fitzpatrick

17. Rory O'Connor

18. Tetera Faulkner

19. Pat Tafa

20. Lachlan Swinton

21. Charlie Gamble

22. Mitch Short

23. Mack Mason

24. Angus Bell

25. Ryan McAuley

26. Jack Maddocks

27. Joey Walton

28. Cam Clark