James O’Connor is set to make his long-awaited return for the Queensland Reds in Friday’s Super Rugby trial match against Melbourne Rebels in Gladstone.
The Wallabies utility last played for the Reds five years ago, released from his contract that came in between stints in France and England respectively.
But O’Connor returned to Australian rugby with a point to prove, earning a World Cup spot last year and he is now keen to help end the Reds’ seven-year finals drought.
O’Connor is part of coach Brad Thorn’s 28-man squad to face the Rebels in one of just two pre-season hit-outs.
World Cup duo Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Taniela Tupou have also been named, along with new skipper Liam Wright, who made his Test debut last year.
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However fellow Wallabies Izack Rodda and Jordan Petaia have been rested, along with off-season recruit Henry Speight, who has a fight on his hands to earn a starting spot on the wing this season despite boasting 19 Test caps.
A logjam of backrowers will also compete for minutes before their first-round clash with the Brumbies on January 21.
They include Junior Wallabies talent and last season’s National Rugby Championship rising star Harry Wilson, 20 and Fraser McReight.
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(6/13) The best test sides of the 2010's – 2015 Wallabies. This was a great Australian side stacked with legends such as Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper as well as guys at their peak in David Pocock, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale. They won the shortened Rugby Championship but failed to win back the Bledisloe in two matches shared 1-1. In the pool of death at the World Cup they beat England and Wales, making a run to the final only to be beaten again by the all-time great All Blacks side. Still went 10-2 and the only losses came against New Zealand. One of the best test sides of the decade, and surely best Australian one of the 2010's. #wallabies #aussierugby #australiarugby #rugbyaustralia #worldrugby #rwc #rugby #rugbygram
McReight had off-season hip surgery and wasn’t named to play in Gladstone.
But the emerging pair are likely to push Salakaia-Loto, Wright and Angus Scott-Young for backrow minutes this season since the departure of former captain Scott Higginbotham.
Wilson said he wouldn’t shy away from his next challenge after dominating the second-tier competition last season.
“I’ll take the confidence from there, backing myself and hopefully it transfers into Super Rugby – but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow,” Wilson said.
It's been a long time since the @Reds_Rugby last reached the @SuperRugby play-offs, but the beginning of the decade proved to be a breakthrough period for the Queensland club. #Reds #SuperRugbyhttps://t.co/9Y1i3kkUfT
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 20, 2019
“(The backrow depth) makes training very difficult, very competitive in a good way.
“But it matters what you do in a game so all of us tomorrow will be ripping in, playing together but playing as hard as you can.”
Reds squad: Dane Zander, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Alex Mafi, Sean Farrell, Efi Ma’afu, Taniela Tupou, Dave Feao, Josh Nasser, Angus Blyth, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Ryan Smith, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Angus Scott-Young, Liam Wright, Harry Wilson, Seru Uru, Tate McDermott, Moses Sorovi, Isaac Lucas, James O’Connor, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Filipo Daugunu, Jock Campbell, Ilaisa Droasese, Bryce Hegarty, Lawson Creighton.
Brad Thorn has appointed young flanker Liam Wright as captain for the season ahead:
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