Emerging star McReight not fazed by daunting Reds challenge

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

He has a capped Wallaby and Queensland captain in front of him but Fraser McReight continues to show why he's so highly regarded by the Reds as both a player and leader of the future.

McReight has added four games this season to the three cameos he made off the bench last year in his Super Rugby debut before leaving for Argentina where he led the Junior Wallabies to within a whisker of a maiden World Rugby U20 title.

A nominee for player of the tournament at that event, the backrower was seen as a star of the future, something his performances at the NRC level backed up as he captained Brisbane City into the finals.

But surgery to correct a hip issue in the off-season, followed by a broken thumb suffered just days ahead of the team's opening trial, hindered his start to the year, causing him to miss the opening three games of the season.

For a less confident and competitive soul, it would be shattering. But even with Reds captain and capped Wallabies backrower Liam Wright starting ahead of him, McReight believes he will be able to make his mark for Queensland having signed on until 2023.

"It's going to be tough for players to crack the side and maintain that spot but it's good - it's good for Queensland, it's good for competition, it drives standards in the team and makes us ultimately better as players and a team, so it's nothing to shy away from," McReight said.

"Most people in this squad are very competitive, so I'm sure we're not just going to sit back and watch people go about it, we'll be trying to fight for a position and I think Thorny (Reds coach Brad Thorn) has instilled that in the group anyway."

The presence of Wright - as both a fellow openside flanker and captain - could be seen as a roadblock for McReight but he believes his presence can only help him improve.

"I can't really worry about that too much. I know 'Wrongers' will do a really good job as a skipper this year. He's got respect from myself and all the players and it's a really good opportunity for him to learn.

"I get to learn how he goes about captaining as well, so learning off him will be a really big part of this year.

"But in terms of cracking the side, there's not much I can do. I can only do what I can control and that's something that I can't really control.

"So worrying about that and stressing about it - sure it's there but you have to keep trying to push it away and you can only really focus on training and keep giving it everything you can."

While he missed the Reds' trip to South Africa and Argentina, McReight was given an opportunity as soon as his thumb healed, playing 31 minutes in Queensland's rout of the Sunwolves at Suncorp Stadium and playing at least 20 minutes in each of the other games in which he came off the bench, playing a true "finisher" role.

"I've had conversations with Brad and all the other coaches and there's been thoughts about what can happen - obviously they know me as a person that's not going to see this and take a step backwards, I'm very competitive and I'm here to make the Reds my home and to make it even a better place for rugby," McReight said.

"So if I can be competitive and make 'Wrongers' a better person off and on the field - and he can do the same for me - I think we'll reap the rewards this year and in the future years."

McReight is seen not just as a rising star in the playing ranks but an emerging leader for Queensland.

After captaining the Junior Wallabies to a maiden win in the Oceania tournament and then silver medal at the World U20 championships, the Brothers and Brisbane Grammar product was handed the reins of Brisbane City's NRC side, his first leadership assignment at the senior level.

"It was massive. It was different, before (Junior Wallabies), my last time captaining was at school, so they were my best mates, guys I knew," he said.

"Going into Junior Wallabies helped with my confidence and having Wilso (Harry Wilson) and Zaccy (Isaac Lucas), all my best mates playing, they could tell me how to get better, what could I say more of and I had that mutual respect as well from the boys because they were my own age.

"But going into captaining City, everyone's walked different rugby journeys and we had a lot younger group this year - so a lot of boys my age or maybe a bit older and then you had people like Dave (Feao) who were 30 - so you had different people with different lives and it was just managing and learning how to captain a men's side.

"(Brandon Paenga-Amosa) was huge in terms of helping out around that aspect of it and it was helpful that I'd already been in a professional environment and seen from Samu (Kerevi) and Scotty (Higginbotham), how they acted what the small things were that really counted as a leader.

"It's not how you played on the field or the decisions you made, it's more about the small things, cleaning up, speaking to the boys, picking up the little things that aren't up to our standards.

"So it was a great learning curve to be honest and I really loved it."

McReight is one of several young players to have signed with the Reds until the end of the next World Cup and is excited at the potential that lies ahead for Queensland.

"It's so exciting. It's something we've always spoken about and a big reason why we all chipped in - because we wanted to play with each other for four years and we have the same goals that we want to achieve: play for Queensland, make us the best Super Rugby team, win the championship.

"But also, hopefully continue on and be there in the next World Cup in France. They're all common goals we have.

"We enjoy playing with each other, it's not the first time we've played, especially me, Wilso and Zac, and Tate (McDermott) as well, we've all played (representative) Schoolboys and through school, so that was a big reason why we stayed and everyone's very excited.

"A lot more boys have come on board, there's 14 maybe and a big core we can build on.

"Thorny's done a good job instilling that culture, loyalty and hard work, so it's going to be pretty cool to see what happens in the future."