Former Wallabies skipper Stephen Moore has answered an SOS from the Queensland Reds at 39.
Moore ran at the team’s captain’s run at Ballymore on Thursday morning before boarding the team flight to Melbourne.
He will kit up and do warm-ups as the team’s 24th man for Friday night’s clash against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park.
He will be on standby should the Reds’ emergency at hooker deepen with an unforeseen pre-game injury like the ankle that co-captain Liam Wright did before the recent game against the Brumbies.
The Reds already have top hookers Alex Mafi and Josh Nasser out with injury and project George Blake is a week away from a return from his.
Richie Asiata will start in Super Rugby Pacific at hooker for the first time against the Rebels with club rugby trojan Matt Faessler on the bench.
Moore made a shock mid-season club comeback for University of Queensland in 2021. His role as a bench hooker had the ultimate reward with a victory in the club grand final.
The decorated 129-Test warrior hasn’t played at the professional level since his final Test against Scotland in Edinburgh to end 2017.
Reds coach Brad Thorn said Moore’s presence was an additional bonus for his younger forwards.
“We’re down quite a few hookers, we approached him and he’s agreed to come in for a week until George is back,” Thorn said at training.
“It’s a cool thing having an experienced guy like him with 100-plus Tests as a player and 100-plus Super Rugby caps. And he’s a real Queenslander.
“We appreciate what he’s doing and he’ll be great to have around.”
The plan is clearly for Moore to just be a spectator but if a Wright-style drama happened in the warm-ups again, would Moore be ready to play minutes?
“Yes. I think when you are an older player you can always front for one or two games before it gets a bit harder on the body,” Thorn said.
The exciting comeback of winger Suliasi Vunivalu is the big news after so long out with hamstring trouble.
Thorn is putting no pressure on him with dreams of playing for the Wallabies and his 2023 plans in rugby or the NRL swirling in the background.
“Suli will be excited but also a bit nervous. That’s normal. There’s no pressure on him from me. He should just go out and do his thing,” Thorn said.
Vunivalu has been training off the radar for months after his two hamstring surgeries. Thorn gave a reminder of what he sees every day in the athletic 1.92m Fijian frame.
“Geez, he’s a specimen,” Thorn said.
“Footy is about playing not endless rehab so just enjoying a good game is enough for me.”
Thorn warned the Rebels had improved significantly since a 23-5 result for the Reds in the opening round.
Rebels attack coach Ryan Martin agreed and hopes some sharpened try-scoring reflects those gains at AAMI Park.
“We’ve made quite a lot of positive shifts in our individual and team stats since the start of the season. It’s just one or two skill executions hurting us,” Martin said of the team averaging just two tries per game.
“The confidence gained from our last two wins is definitely showing.”
SRP TEAMS: Gordon, Vunivalu return
RE-SIGN: Johnson-Holmes inks extension
Martin was upbeat about the mark Wallabies winger Andrew Kellaway could make at outside centre.
“’Kells’ is very cerebral with the way he views the game and the game sense he brings. I think we’ll see him manipulate more chances," Martin said.
Rebels centre Stacey Ili said he was up for the crashball running that will likely encourage some heavy body shots from Redscentre Hunter Paisami.
“The Reds will be tough and we are definitely wary of Vunivalu, their whole back three actually,” Ili said.
“Our confidence and combos have definitely improved so we are excited by this game.”