The experiment that Australian rugby has been waiting for is locked in for Saturday night with Jordan Petaia selected at fullback by the Queensland Reds.
Petaia shuffled back to fullback at times in the opening stages of the season but this is a full rebranding with “No.15” on his back.
It will be no easy audition with Petaia facing the unpredictable Fijian Drua when they visit Suncorp Stadium in Round Four of Super Rugby Pacific.
It will be an instant test of his instincts in defence and kicking the ball away from the Drua not directly to hungry arms ready for a counter-attack.
Petaia may be able to kick at training but he’s yet to show any consistency in that key area in games.
He stabbed a poor kick out on the full against the NSW Waratahs and misread his bearings last Friday against the Western Force when he knocked a ball back into his own 22. He thought he could bang the kick out on the full for upfield metres before realising the act of carrying it back in his 22 meant conceding a lineout 20m from his own tryline.
The upside to Petaia at fullback is obvious with his roaming gallops on attack and his athletic and reliable catching of high kicks.
Petaia has been a hit at wing and outside centre already in his career but enjoys fullback just as much.
“I played fullback in my final year at school (Brisbane State High) so, yeah, I enjoy getting more touches there and the greater freedom you have at the back,” he said.
Doing the little things right will be all-important for Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, who will take great interest in this selection move by Reds boss Brad Thorn.
Thorn has been excited about the “Petaia at fullback” possibility for longer than Rennie so it will be well worth watching this unfold.
In-form Jock Campbell slides across to the wing in a positional switch.
In the other big move, former Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight has been named as the fourth captain of the Reds this season.
With Liam Wright, Tate McDermott and LukhanSalakaia-Loto all out injured, McReight, 23, will step into a role that comes quite naturally to him.
James O’Connor filled in as captain last Friday when Salakaia-Loto went off early but has reiterated he wants to concentrate on leading the team well with his play from No.10 rather than with the (c) after his name.
Ryan Smith will start at lock for the injured Salakaia-Loto and Taniela Tupou is back at starting prop to dominant the Drua scrum.
On the bench, Grafton product Connor Vest is in line for a Super Rugby debut after a long education as a premiership-winning lock for Sydney’s Northern Suburbs and University of Queensland.
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In honour of the Queensland Rugby Union’s Pasifika Round, eight players will proudly wear the flag of their Pacific background on their jersey which will be signed and auctioned off after the match to raise further funds for UNICEF Australia’s Tongan Recovery Appeal.
Tupou (Tonga), Petaia (Samoa), Seru Uru (Fiji), Kalani Thomas (Maori), Hunter Paisami (Samoa), Feao Fotuaika (Tonga), Zane Nonggorr (Papua New Guinea) and TuaniaTaiiTualima (Samoa) will all sport the flag of their heritage.
Queensland take on the Fijian Drua at 6:45pm AEST with the women’s side taking to the field at 4:15pm to face the Fijiana Drua in a historic double-header.
REDS (1-15): Harry Hoopert, Josh Nasser, Taniela Tupou, Ryan Smith, Angus Blyth, Seru Uru, Fraser McReight (c), Harry Wilson, Kalani Thomas, James O'Connor, Josh Flook, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Jock Campbell, Jordan Petaia
RESERVES: Matt Faessler, Feao Fotuaika, Zane Nonggorr, Connor Vest, Tuiana Taii Tualima, Spencer Jeans, Lawson Creighton, Mac Grealy