The Queensland Reds will look to put a disrupted second preseason of 2020 behind them on Friday when their Super Rugby AU campaign kicks off against the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium.

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Rising stars Harry Hockings and Isaac Lucas, joined by Wallaby Izack Rodda, walked out on the Reds and Rugby Australia in May due to the uncertain financial state of the game.

The Reds will have their depth put to the test this season, and will be made to miss the trio if other players can’t fill the holes left by their departure.

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Harry Wilson of the Queensland Reds ahead of opening game against the Waratahs

But there’s hope.

While not discrediting the ability of the former Reds players, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

With two of the three players being second rowers, let’s start the Reds quest for prosperity there.

Wallaby Lukhan Salakaia-Loto could very well see more time in the second row, but Brad Thorn may have to turn to youth to bolster an already inexperienced side.

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22-year-old Angus Blyth isn’t new to the Reds, having represented his State on 14 occasions. But Blyth may now have the opportunity to cement his place in the team.

The Queensland Country representative started the first match of 2020 against the Brumbies alongside Salakaia-Loto in the second row, so it’s an already familiar partnership that could mould the future of the Queensland Reds tight five.

As for the loss of Isaac Lucas, the Reds have some of the best up and coming talent in the country who can fill the void left by the utility back.

21-year-old Lucas showed glimpses of promise in all seven Reds matches so far in 2020, drawing praise for his impact and potential.

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But other than his two starts against the Brumbies and Crusaders, he became a regular custodian of the 22 jersey whilst also filling in at fullback, with James O’Connor more fancied at fly-half with Hamish Stewart outside him.

Joining Stewart in the centres was three-test Wallaby Jordan Petaia, before he went down with a shoulder injury early in the season.

Hunter Paisami replaced Petaia and held his own in Super Rugby alongside Stewart, in what just may be the future of the Reds midfield.

Upon his return, Petaia at 15 could be a sight to behold if Thorn decides to play the 20-year-old there.

Jock Campbell was an integral part of the Reds side in 2020, becoming the first-choice fullback after starting the first two matches on the wing.

Depending on how Petaia returns, any of Stewart, Paisami or Campbell would do Lucas’ spot on the bench justice.

Chris Feauai-Sautia and Filipo Daugunu are also players who could prompt line-up reshuffles with Henry Speight having left for Pro D2 side Biarritz.

2019 Australian Schools & U18s captain Josh Flook, and 2019 Queensland schoolboy of the year Mac Grealy, could also have the potential to fill the vacancy left by Lucas in the long-term.

Simply, the Reds have the depth to overcome the loss of some incredible talent.

Bryce Hegarty also proved a helpful alternative at 15, who was also more accurate with the boot than his replacement in Campbell.

Now this is where the big issues lie.

Campbell had converted 12 of 21 attempts off the tee after the match against the Crusaders in Christchurch, while Hegarty was perfect from nine attempts before being moved to the bench after round two.

As long as the Reds goalkickers get on top of their accuracy, the Reds will be winning a lot more than what they did earlier this year, having lost three of their seven matches by seven or less.

Replacements and goal kicking woes will be put to the test this Friday, when the Reds host the inaugural match of Super Rugby AU against their fiercest rivals, the Waratahs.

Number Eight Harry Wilson spoke about the match on Tuesday, in what promises to be a State of Origin like encounter.

“Queensland versus New South Wales, it’s the biggest game of the year being a Queensland or New South Welshman. There’s probably no better way to start this competition than versing New South Wales,” Wilson told Reds TV.

“From the moment we heard about it, we were very fired up for this game. They had Paul Gallen speaking to them too so they’ll be pretty fired up for this game also.

“We don’t need anymore extra motivation than just playing New South Wales.”

With the Waratahs winning just one from six earlier this year, this is simply a must win for the Reds as they attempt to win their first Super title since 2011.

If the Reds get off to a good start on Friday and build throughout the season, they still have the personnel to contest for a top two finish.

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