Strengthening the pack is a key feature of the first Queensland Reds squad of new coach Les Kiss, who has harnessed Kiwi, Irish and Fijian accents to do so.
No one who watched the eighth-placed Reds mix a stellar upset of the champion Chiefs with error-prone losses could fail to identify how much the team missed injured front-row weapon Taniela Tupou in 2023.
With Tupou’s switch to the Melbourne Rebels confirmed so far in advance, Kiss has zeroed in on bolstering his tight five in the 41-man squad named today for Super Rugby Pacific.
Former All Black props Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen and Alex Hodgman are significant signings. Toomaga-Allen made his Reds debut last Saturday with 48 minutes as a starter in the 31-29 victory over Japan’s Saitama Wild Knights at Ballymore.
He turns 33 this month. His experience playing in New Zealand, England and Ireland will be invaluable in nurturing young pup front-rowers like Junior Wallabies standout Massimo de Lutiis, George Blake, Max Craig and fit-again Josh Nasser.
New Wallabies hooker Matt Faessler and World Cup prop partner Zane Nonggorr are also going to learn plenty as well from the former Wellington Hurricanes prop and Hodgman, who played four Tests for the All Blacks in 2020.
Kiss also made the wise call to re-sign Fijian Test prop Penai Ravai, after his 14 games for the Reds this year. That was even before Ravai’s excellent cameos for the Flying Fijians at the World Cup.
Also adding to the tight five mix is former Ireland Under-20s signing Cormac Daly. Daly made his mark for Randwick in this year’s Shute Shield triumph and is on a one-year deal at the Reds.
His positive display against the Wild Knights, when he showed some footwork in one eye-catching run, distinguishes him from the Reds other uncapped locks who all tend to run into people rather than half-holes.
Kiss has made some targeted signings in the backrow too with Lachie Connors and young John Bryant having a line-bending knack. The signing of 112kg Joe Brial is a win on a number of fronts. Not only is the son of a Wallaby coming back to Australia but he does so with three years of toughening in the Kiwi system behind him.
You’d hate to say that this is the perfect diet of extra games and rugby saturation to get the best from any former Australian Schools and Under-18s player but it probably is.
In all, Kiss has 14 players of international experience in his squad and 11 yet to play at Super Rugby level. The squad has a cumulative 1224 games of Super Rugby experience with an average age of 24.
If the squad has an obvious weakness it is again having too much of a mosquito fleet in the backs in terms of size, especially if bigger, more powerful players like Jordan Petaia, Suliasi Vunivalu get injured.
Frankie Goldsbrough, the exciting teenage centre signing straight out of Year 12 at Churchie, will help solve that shortcoming but it will take time as it is already showing with Taj Annan. “We’ve named a well-balanced squad for the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season,” Kiss said. “We identified key positions where we needed to bring in some experience and we’ve done that.
“It was good to blood so many debutants against the Wild Knights. One thing we are keen for is increasing the competitive pressure for positions throughout the squad.”
Kiss would have gone wider on accents too but for timings not quite working out with an Argentinian target from his former London Irish team.
The Queensland Rugby Union has trumpeted a 90 per cent feeder from “local pathways” in recent years. That’s an admirable mission to promote local talent but it has also been blinkered when shortchanging the team’s broader needs in specific positions.
Sam Cordingley, Reds General Manager, Professional Rugby, admitted recruiting has taken a slightly different tack for 2024.
“Like Brad Thorn, Les has already shown a very strong interest in local Queensland talent. He has also looked at players outside the system, particularly our two former All Blacks coming in as older, more experienced players to benefit the squad,” Cordingley said.
“It’s good to have that experience in the tight five where it has been lacking, especially with Taniela unable to play at all in Super Rugby this season.”
The Reds open their 2024 season with a blockbuster against the NSW Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium on February 24.
Queensland Reds 2024 Squad
Connor Anderson – Wests
Taj Annan – Souths
Floyd Aubrey** – GPS
Richie Asiata – Easts
George Blake – Bond University
Angus Blyth – Bond University
Joe Brial* – TBC
John Bryant** – Souths
Jock Campbell – University of Queensland
Max Craig** – Easts
Lawson Creighton – Brothers
Cormac Daly** – TBC
Massimo de Lutiis** – Easts
Sef Fa'agase – Sunnybank
Matt Faessler – Brothers
Josh Flook – Brothers
Frankie Goldsbrough* – Easts
Mac Grealy – University of Queensland
Isaac Henry – Wests
Alex Hodgman* – Sunnybank
Tom Lynagh – University of Queensland
Tate McDermott – University of Queensland
Harry McLaughlin-Phillips** – Souths
Fraser McReight – Brothers
Josh Nasser – University of Queensland
Zane Nonggorr – Bond University
James O'Connor – Brothers
Hunter Paisami – Wests
Jordan Petaia – Wests
Peni Ravai – Easts
Taine Roiri** – Easts
Tim Ryan** – Brothers
Ryan Smith – Brothers
Kalani Thomas – University of Queensland
Jeffery Toomaga-Allen** – Norths
Seru Uru – Wests
Connor Vest – University of Queensland
Suliasi Vunivalu – Wests
Louis Werchon** – Wests
Harry Wilson – Brothers
Liam Wright – Easts *denotes uncapped for Queensland
**denotes uncapped for Queensland at Super Rugby level