Reds lose Tupou but welcome back Petaia, Vunivalu for Highlanders
Centre Hunter Paisami will miss with a shoulder injury while five-eighth James O’Connor (knee) remains out too, with the injury-hit Reds (7-3) keen to avoid a third-straight defeat this season and record fifth-straight loss to the Highlanders (5-5).
But in Suliasi Vunivalu and Jordan Petaia there is welcome respite on Friday at Suncorp Stadium, the pair back from niggles to torment on each wing after missing last week’s gutting 27-25 loss to the Chiefs.
“They’re the type of players that can create something out of nothing and that’s something we’ll need against the Kiwi teams, particularly the Highlanders, with good defence.”
Seru Uru and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto will also return to the starting side after strong bench cameos in injury returns last week.
Victory against the Hurricanes could put the Reds back above the Chiefs, who host the Brumbies, into the top four.
And it would silence any doubts before a tough regular season finish that features away games to the top-ranked Blues (9-1) and Crusaders (third, 7-3).
Even without Tupou (calf) in the side there will remain an elephant in the room as the Reds chase just their third win from the last 25 games against New Zealand opposition.
“No, I don’t think there is a mental barrier, but we’ve got to prove there isn’t,” McDermott said.
“We’re just coming up against better opposition and we’re learning that if we keep 15 players on the field we will win a game.”
Indeed the Reds’ 11 yellow cards are four more than any other team, while they are second in penalties conceded behind the Waratahs.
The Chiefs controversially took advantage of the Reds’ weakened scrum once Tupou limped off at halftime, earning constant penalties that proved the difference in a loss McDermott said took days to get over.
Harry Hoopert and Feoa Fotuaika will bookend the front row on Friday, while former Reds prop Albert Anae is back at Ballymore and will come off the bench after being drafted in as injury cover from Japanese rugby.
McDermott expects the same again from the Highlanders, who will be led by savvy No.9 Aaron Smith.
“I think they will target the scrum; you look at that second half [against the Chiefs] but I back our guys to do a job there,” he said.
“I’m not into the intricacies of the scrum world, but I know those guys have done a job before and can do again.”
Reds: Harry Hoopert, Richie Asiata, Feao Fotuaika, Ryan Smith, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Seru Uru, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, Lawson Creighton, Jordan Petaia, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jock Campbell. Reserves: Matt Faessler, Dane Zander, Albert Anae, Angus Blyth, Angus Scott-Young, Spencer Jeans, Josh Flook, Filipo Daugunu
– Murray Wenzel
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