The 'Higgers' factor: How Reds legend helped shape rising star Wilson

Mon, 17/02/2020, 08:00 pm
Emma Greenwood
by Emma Greenwood
Harry Wilson has modelled his game on aggressive former Queensland captain Scott Higginbotham. Photo: Getty Images
Harry Wilson has modelled his game on aggressive former Queensland captain Scott Higginbotham. Photo: Getty Images

He's the young buck turning heads as he tears through a maiden Super Rugby season with a game modelled on an aggressive Queensland favourite.

When Harry Wilson realised he was unlikely to make his Reds debut last year, he looked to a 100-game veteran to learn as much as he could to be ready to unleash when his chance came.

Scott Higginbotham has been an outstanding servant of Queensland rugby, playing more than 100 games and captaining his state.

But one of his greatest contributions may have been in mentoring Wilson during his final season at Ballymore last year.

A member of the Junior Wallabies' squad last year, Wilson's departure for the World Rugby U20 championships in Argentina partway through the Super Rugby season denied him the chance of making a Super Rugby debut.

Bu tit had a silver lining.

"That was one of the good things last year, when I knew I wasn't versing Higgers for a spot, my goal was just to learn from him," Wilson said.

"Everything I do I just want to attack it and just do it as hard as you can. I love the way Higgers just played eyes-up footy in attack and defence.

"It's definitely something to emulate. When I play rugby I don't like playing just boring stuff and that's probably why I really liked learning from Higgers and just watching in general."

Wilson was one of the Junior Wallabies' best as they pushed into the final in Argentina - falling a single point short of a world title - and went on to be named the NRC's Rising Star after an outstanding stint with Queensland Country.

He carried that momentum into the Reds' pre-season, making it impossible for coach Brad Thorn to leave him out of the starting side.

Thorn and scrum coach Cameron Lillicrap have been nurturing the young Queensland pack for several years and with the basics now under their belts, want them to be an aggressive force in the competition.

"That's what they've been very big on this year, we're not just going to hit straight up, we're going to use our hands and not be a boring team, be a very attacking team," Wilson said.

"I know that's one of my strengths, so that's even more motivation to get out there and try and do it on the big stage."

Wilson has achieved that in the opening three rounds, pushing his way to sixth place on the Super Rugby stats ladder for carries, one behind teammate James O'Connor, with Wallabies no.8 Isi Naisarani leading the competition.

He is also in equal-fifth place for offloads, with Reds teammates Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and O'Connor, delivering on the potential many saw in him.

His efforts have impressed Thorn so much that he kept his place in the starting XV against the Jaguares last week when forced to reshuffle his pack to accommodate the return of Harry Hockings.

Thorn is well aware he's dealing with a 20-year-old though and won't heap expectations on the young man's shoulders.

"I want to look after Harry, I don't want to put any pressure on him and he's just in a good space," Thorn said.

"He's a very fine footballer and everyone can see he's got a big future.

"But I just want him to be focused and stay humble and just keep loving representing the state and playing the role that he's playing."

Wilson is aware of the buzz but determined to stay grounded.

"There's really no point in me listening to it because it really only matters what I do on the training park and then in games," he said.

"Obviously any positive thing is nice to hear but it doesn't really matter unless I perform."

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