Picking a starting Reds team for round one of Super Rugby Pacific
Winning the Super Rugby AU title in 2021, coach Brad Thorn will be keen to assert his side as the premier force in the Australian game.
A blend of experience in the likes of James O’Connor, Liam Wright and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto is coupled with developing professionals such as Dane Zander and Angus Blyth, making the Reds a tough customer to contend with.
This is the side, we think, Thorn will select to launch the Queensland Reds Campaign of 2022.
1. Dane Zander
There is nothing fashionable about this bloke. Nothing at all. But playing professional rugby as a front rower one shouldn’t expect endorsement opportunities from fashion houses de-jour. The ‘why’ he should start for the Queensland Reds is found in his narrative. Yes, he went to the famous Wallabies factory, Nudgee College, but he played in the 3rd XV. Yes, he played in the Brisbane City U19 team, but he made it from the Norths Club, perennial struggles in the Queensland Premier Rugby Competition. Zander’s pathway hasn’t been fashionable, but neither is his style of play. Yet it has become apparent in his 18 Super Rugby appearances that he can play and, above all, has the right mindset to start as the Reds’ loosehead.
2. Alex Mafi
With the departure of Brandon Paenga-Amosa to Europe, now is the time for the 25-year-old to stake his claim on the No 2 jersey. Having been with the Reds program since 2016 and with 60 state caps to his name, the abrasive Bond University rake has the requisite experience to run on for the first whistle.
3. Taniela Tupou
He is the best tighthead prop in Australia, so why not start him? In their recent trial against the Waratahs at Roma, the starting Reds front row, of which Tupou was not one of, were schooled by their rivals. The Reds in recent years have used their scrum as a weapon and have earned the right to consider their scrum as the strongest in the domestic competition. To not play their best available tighthead would destabilise the potency of that weapon and would be foolish. Hence, I can’t see Thorn not selecting Tupou.
4. Angus Blyth
Standing at 205cm, Blyth is one of the tallest men in Australian rugby and that height makes him such an attractive option for a program that prides itself on its set-piece. Yet he also has a fair-sized motor in him and gets through his work off the ball with minimal fuss. The 23-year-old from the Bond University Club will have to work hard to keep off Ryan Smith as the season progresses, but should get one of the starting lock positions.
5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
Will likely partner Blyth in the locking role largely due to his experience. With over 50 Super Rugby caps and 25 tests for the Wallabies, the 25-year-old is firming up as the old head of the pack, something Thorn will need to relieve pressure off the shoulders of skipper Liam Wright. Like Blyth however, he will have Ryan Smith keeping him honest.
6. Liam Wright
Will start as he is the leader of this Reds team. 2022 will be a seminal year for his international career, however, as he appears to have not pressed his case hard enough to demand Wallabies selection despite his obvious playing and leadership credentials. If he wants to be on the plane to France in 2023, a strong 2022 domestic season, thus forcing selection for the upcoming home series against the touring English, is a given.
7. Fraser McReight
Through his work around the recycle, he affords the rest some genuine pressure in and around the ball. Thorn has the option at selecting a larger pack that would send McReight to the bench, yet the former Australian U20s star is already a point-of-difference player and will have the speed across the park to cause the Melbourne Rebels issues for the full 80.
8. Harry Wilson
Will get the nod as he is arguably the best No 8 in the country, despite being left out of last years Wallabies tour of the Northern Hemisphere. Expect a statement game from him. I am going to predict a man-of-the-match performance already. Yes, I like the Gunnedah product, but it’s not a man crush. I am not competing for his affections with a certain Kiwi coach who was once quoted as saying, “I’ve officially fallen for, have I mentioned, Harry Wilson.” Hello Razor, if you are reading.
9. Tate McDermott
Announced as a Red co-captain for 2022 alongside Wright, the Sunshine Coast product is expected to start this weekend despite missing last weekend’s trial due to illness. In 2021, he had some quality moments for the Reds and Wallabies, and he will no doubt be looking to get out of the gate early to establish himself as Australia’s halfback in 2022. However, he will have some stiff opposition, with Nic White of the Brumbies and Jake Gordon of the Waratahs appearing to be his main rivals.
10. James O’Connor
There is speculation that Jock Campbell may move closer to the action and play more at first receiver, and that may yet transpire during the match, but I still suspect the veteran will still be named as the starting first-five. I recently had the opportunity to hear him speak and he appears to be in a very good space and I expect that to translate into some quality rugby from him.
11. Jordan Petaia
He may yet find a home at fullback, but I think Thorn will start him in a familiar position on the wing. Not his best position in my opinion, I tend to think he plays his best rugby at 13, but how this team is structured for round one, the State High product out of the famous Wests Bulldogs Club in Brisbane will likely start there.
12. Hamish Stewart
Mr Reliable of the Reds backline should start as the second-five. The Toowoomba Grammar old boy, who once played as a flanker, has the right skillset that suits the Reds structures as he is one of the best linking and supporting players in the Australian game. Sadly, these attributes don’t appear to suit the Wallabies systems that appear to have precluded him from higher honours. Perhaps that may chance in 2022?
13. Hunter Paisami
Like McDermott, he missed last weekend’s trial due to illness. I expect him to be named as he simply will provide the ferocity to bend the line in attack, and the same in defending the line as has been his hallmark since rising to prominence in the past couple of seasons. If he is yet to regain full fitness, I anticipate young gun Josh Flook to take his place.
14. Filipo Daugunu
One of the fastest men in the Australian game, he practically picks himself on the wing when fit. 2021 wasn’t his greatest year, more so due to injury, and I expect him to look to start the year with a strong performance.
15. Jock Campbell
I like the idea of him moving into the first receiver duties in time, but I expect him to start the season in his more familiar full back role. At 26, 2022 might be the year the former University of Queensland Colts 2 player might crack the Wallabies squad? What a journey that would have been from his junior club, the Inverell Highlanders.
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