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The Reds' six-year drought

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The six-year drought the Reds could break with a win this weekend

The Queensland Reds can go top of the Australian conference for the first time since 2013 when they meet the Melbourne Rebels in a Super Rugby blockbuster on Friday.

The Rebels’ grip on the conference is slipping after they lost a third straight game to welcome back the chasing pack over the weekend.

It sets up a mouth-watering second bout between Quade Cooper and Brad Thorn in Melbourne.

Queensland coach Thorn was just three days into his first pre-season as a Super Rugby head coach when he unceremoniously dumped veteran Cooper from the Reds squad in late 2017.

The move banished Cooper to Brisbane club rugby for 2018, but the 70-test playmaker returned through the Rebels this season and beat Thorn’s men when they first met in round seven.

The Reds drew level with the Rebels on five wins after defeating the Sunwolves on Friday, and now sit two points adrift of the conference table toppers.

But if Queenslanders beat the Rebels they’ll go top of the Australian conference for the first time in six years.

The Reds may have to do so without forward Harry Hockings who was sent off for stomping on the head of a Sunwolves player during the win.

Hockings will appear at a SANZAAR judicial committee hearing via video conference at 5pm AEST on Monday after being red carded for the incident.

The Brumbies snapped a three-game losing streak against the Blues and are second on points differential, after the Rebels left their run too late against the Hurricanes in Wellington.

The Waratahs squandered another chance to top the conference and instead slipped to fourth after wasting chances against the Bulls in Pretoria.

There are six rounds remaining in what is shaping as the closest Australian conference in history.

The Brumbies have played an additional game, but they face the bottom-placed Sunwolves twice, the first instalment in Canberra on Sunday.

The Waratahs meet the Lions in Johannesburg for the second leg of their South African tour.

There were two draws in round 12, with the Crusaders converting an after-the-siren try against the Sharks and Chiefs playmaker Marty McKenzie doing the same to the Highlanders.

The Jaguares forced their way into the top eight with a hard-fought win against the Stormers, which means all five teams in their conference are separated by just one win.

Two-time reigning champions the Crusaders remain on top of the overall ladder, six points clear of the Hurricanes and 14 ahead of the Bulls.

AAP

Watch – George Gregan sits down with RugbyPass:

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The six-year drought the Reds could break with a win this weekend