Horan: For Reds and Tahs it's back to the future in Super Rugby AU

Super Rugby - AU
by Tim Horan

Super Rugby AU kicks off on Friday and a Reds-Waratahs blockbuster is a fitting way to usher in a new era for the game.

The eyes of the rugby world will be on two of our oldest and most fierce rivals as rugby emerges out the other side of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Super Rugby AU is just the second rugby competition in the world to return to action, providing a rare chance for our teams and players to take centre stage.

With new laws being trialled and an All-Aussie format, Super Rugby AU can re-energise the game in this country after some turbulent times.

The game’s challenges have been well-documented and there are certainly still hurdles for Rugby Australia and its players to clear.

On Friday night, players will be playing with an uncertain future ahead of them, a need to impress like never before, for their own security and that of the sport in the long-term.

Rugby has been in this place before, on the cusp of something that will be hugely influential in the sport’s future.

In the 1990s, the game was at a crossroads.

Out of that juncture came professionalism and, ultimately, Super Rugby.

This too can be a defining moment for the sport and it is only appropriate that the new world begins with the sport’s most historic rivalry.

I know from my experience playing for Queensland that New South Wales games carry incredible weight.

Some years, encounters with our southern rivals stirred up more emotion for me than a Test match because of the well-trodden history between the two sides.

That passion for the jersey, on both sides of the border, still very much exists in this generation of players.

NSW began their rev up early, bringing Origin great Paul Gallen into their camp to talk about the pressures of the rivalry between the two states.

It was a good move by the Waratahs. As a player when you get successful athletes from other walks of life come and talk to you, you can take different things away that you can add to your own preparation.

It may just be one or two small things, but that could be prove the winning difference.

Make no mistake, a Gallen address will give the Waratahs a dose of extra fire when they run out on Friday night. We’ll know in the first ten minutes of the match if Gallen’s address worked for the Tahs.

Queensland will need to be ready for that and with their own Origin hero in Brad Thorn inside their camp, they certainly will be.

While their interstate history might be long and storied, this is also a glimpse of the future.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie will be watching this match as a Wallabies audition and a battle for a gold jersey, both this year and in years to come.

Queensland probably have a slight edge when it comes to the development of their young crop, many of whom now have two or more seasons of Super Rugby under their belt.

The Waratahs will be even younger than they were in Super Rugby earlier this year, a number of injuries compounding the absence of vice-captain, Kurtley Beale.

Queensland must give NSW respect but they will be aware that in key positions the Waratahs are still very green.

On the flipside, the loss of Izack Rodda, Harry Hockings and Isaac Lucas has left Queensland with some big holes to fill as well.

Rodda was the enforcer within the Queensland pack and someone else will have to step up and take on this role. 

Across the park there will be mouth-watering match ups that could have Test implications – James O’Connor vs Will Harrison, Taniela Tupou vs Angus Bell and Michael Hooper vs Liam Wright to name a few.

With Beale gone, capped Wallaby Jack Maddocks has the chance to stand up and deliver at fullback for NSW, which I believe is his best position.

Maddocks has admitted he is yet to fulfil his potential at the Waratahs and this is his chance to shine.

The incumbent Wallabies captain Michael Hooper should be wary of Queensland skipper Liam Wright, who will be keen to mark his name down on the Wallabies selectors notepads. 

Reds halves James O’Connor and Tate McDermott loom as the potential game breakers if their pack can assert its dominance early in the game.

The Super Rugby AU law changes will make the game more exciting with the ball in play for longer periods of time.

This clash will be the first of the new Australian rugby era and it is time for the game to re-establish our position in Australian sport and provide supporters optimism of the future of our great code.