The Queensland Reds have back their young guns to make the step up to Super Rugby, naming Junior Wallabies Isaac Lucas and Harry Wilson in their starting team for Friday's Super Rugby opener against the Brumbies.
If the game goes ahead, that is. Canberra's fresh bushfire crisis is likely to trigger the use of newly introduced air quality guidelines, with the possibility the clash could be cancelled if the welfare of players is at risk.
The Reds will travel to Canberra as planned on Thursday, with a determination on the match likely to be made just ahead of kick-off unless the situation continues to deteriorate rapidly.
Lucas made his debut from the bench in round one last year, eventually playing eight games for the Reds before heading to the U20 world championships, and was missed as the Reds struggled to settle on a playmaker due to a mix of injuries and absences.
But he has been handed the reins this season and with a years-long association with halfback Tate McDermott, and growing relationship with inside centre James O'Connor, is likely to cement the role.
But coach Brad Thorn has not lumped expectations on his young flyhalf's shoulders, saying he just wants Lucas to be himself as the Reds attempt to start a three-week global road trip on a winning note against the defending Australian conference champions.
"Just to do his job, just to be Zaccy really," Thorn said when asked what he wanted to see from Lucas.
"He's a real talent, he showed that last year. He played eight games for us and he would have played another eight (if available).
"He did well with the 20s and enjoyed the NRC at 10 and he's been working hard so it'll be good to see him out there and expressing himself."
Like Lucas, Wilson was a key member of a Junior Wallabies outfit that went within a point of taking out the World Rugby U20 championship last year.
Wilson's trial form and continuing development made it an easy decision to hand him a Super Rugby debut and Thorn has showed his faith in the no.8 by selecting him in the starting side, pushing Test backrower Lukhan Salakaia-Loto into lock.
"He's a real prospect. He came through the Australian 20s, he's come through our system," Thorn said of Wilson.
"He's a big strong boy at the back there, a highly skilled footballer and good cricketer, good hands. He's been working hard and he gets and opportunity."
With Harry Hockings (broken hand) unavailable and Izack Rodda named on the bench, having not played a single minute of football during the trials due to ankle surgery following the World Cup, Salakaia-Loto's move gives Thorn his strongest possible round one side.
Thorn has been named JP Smith to start at loosehead prop despite the 30-year-old missing both trials as he recovered from off-season knee surgery. Harry Hooper (back) is unavailable, handing Dane Zander the chance to make his debut after winning a spot on the Reds extended squad following a strong NRC season.
The Reds are particularly skinny in the prop department, with Feao Fotuaika also named on the bench without having played either trial due to an ongoing foot injury.
Hunter Paisami and Seru Uru - along with Zander, players Thorn nominated to RUGBY.com.au as fringe players to watch in 2020 - are also in line to make their debuts after being named on the bench.
"You can be in club rugby and it's not over, there's still opportunities there," Thorn said.
"We've shown that we've been prepared to pick guys out of club and the NRC's just been a great thing for Australian rugby in my opinion, we've really benefited from it in the last couple of years.
"Those guys perform well in NRC, they performed well in the pre-season and they get to wear the jersey. I imagine they'll be nervous but also excited at what's in front of them."
Winger Henry Speight has also been named, as expected, to make his Reds debut against his former club in round one.
"It'll be a big one for Henry and it's just been great having him," Thorn said.
"He's highly respected down in Canberra and we're fortunate to have him. I'd say a lot of fans down there will be wanting him to do well but they'll be wanting a Brumbies win - but we'll see what happens."
The Reds take on the Brumbies on Friday, January 31, at GIO Stadium in Canberra, kicking off at 7:15pm AEDT and LIVE on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.
Reds to play Brumbies
1. JP Smith – GPS
2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa – Sunnybank
3. Taniela Tupou – Brothers
4. Angus Blyth – Bond University
5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto – Souths
6. Angus Scott-Young – University of Queensland
7. Liam Wright (c) – Easts
8. Harry Wilson* – Brothers
9. Tate McDermott – University of Queensland
10. Isaac Lucas – Sunnybank
11. Henry Speight* – Bond University
12. James O’Connor – Brothers
13. Jordan Petaia – Wests
14. Jock Campbell – University of Queensland
15. Bryce Hegarty – GPS
16. Alex Mafi – Bond University
17. Dane Zander** – Norths
18. Feao Fotuaika – GPS
19. Izack Rodda – Easts
20. Seru Uru** – Easts
21. Moses Sorovi – Wests
22. Hamish Stewart – Brothers
23. Hunter Paisami** – Wests