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'Watch this space': Queensland Reds backline reshuffle could see some surprises

By AAP
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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Jock Campbell has emerged as a surprise playmaking option for the Queensland Reds while Jordan Petaia’s first minutes at fullback only strengthened the argument for more.

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But last year’s domestic champions will still enter Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific opener against the Melbourne Rebels with many questions to answer after back-to-back trial losses.

The Reds were lucky just to get some game time in Roma on Saturday night, power returning just as officials were set to cancel their clash with the Waratahs after the regional Queensland town was plunged into darkness minutes before kick off.

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The hosts struggled in a flat first half, Petaia’s cameo at fullback and Jock Campbell’s move to five-eighth two bright spots in a 21-14 loss.

Both men, as well as James O’Connor and coach Brad Thorn, missed last week’s trial loss to the Western Force after contracting COVID-19.

O’Connor, last year’s Australian Super Rugby player of the year, started at five-eighth and will look to dominate that position and entrench himself in Wallabies coach Dave Rennie’s best 15 ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

But with Bryce Hegarty departing for the English Premiership, Campbell has surfaced as the Reds’ new Swiss army knife.

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“It’s competitive … James did a great job last year and if there’s an injury you’ve got Jock there,” Thorn said.

“We know he can play wing, at 15 and he’s been working at 10 over the summer and he looked pretty sharp.

“He brings a big kick and he’s a threat as well.”

Youngsters Tom Lynagh and Lawson Creighton could also come into the equation, while Suliasi Vunivalu is nearing a return from a recurring hamstring injury to create further gridlock for spots on the Reds’ edges.

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Petaia could open up a spot on the wing for the former NRL star if he continues the shift to fullback many in Australian rugby have been long calling for.

Fullback remains a wide open spot ahead of the World Cup and Petaia’s confident showing came with Rennie watching from a scissor-lift above the ground.

“It was good to see him out there, have a crack at fullback,” Thorn said.

“He enjoyed that, looked good there and there’s been a bit of chat about that last year.

“I was talking about it four years ago; he likes the fullback role … at the minimum it brings competition.”

Thorn admitted the Reds needed to improve quickly and that the COVID-19 cases over the last fortnight – Tate McDermott and Hunter Paisami missed the Waratahs game – had left them flying partially blind into the first round.

“You’re probably right (we are a bit underdone),” he said.

“It affects you doesn’t it; who you play and combinations.

“But some of the teams haven’t had any COVID and most of our team have had it, even the coach.

“So watch this space as far as how it plays out.”

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