Brad Thorn seems to have selected his Queensland squad based on player’s ability to keep their noses clean (literally), rather than ability on a rugby field, and it is finally time to see if it will work for him. Thorn’s first year in charge was marred by the controversial standing down of Quade Cooper, Karmichael Hunt and James Slipper, which left his three most experienced players on the sidelines.
The Reds have a tough first up assignment, heading to Dunedin to face the Highlanders. They will then face the Waratahs in Sydney before their first home game takes place against the defending champions, the Crusaders. They need a win in one of these games to lure the faithful back to Ballymore – but it is hard to see where they will get one.
Queensland are a very young side, with an average age of 22. They are a team that is full of potential, at least according to the Ballymore faithful, but very short on achievement – especially with Cooper and Slipper exiled and Scott Higginbotham, the sole survivor from their 2011 triumph, left out of the match day squad. They will need to start picking up results soon to keep the fans coming back.
Queensland’s forward pack is formidable, as are their centres. They also feature capable wingers and a serviceable journeyman in Bryce Hegarty at fullback. Their biggest problem is in the halves, with Moses Sorovi and Hamish Stewart hardly setting the world on fire last year. For a five-eighth Stewart is a hard ball runner and solid defender, with a handy boot. His creativity, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Sorovi seems to be the starting halfback largely because the alternatives are worse, rather than because he is standing out.
In wet and windy conditions the Reds have the forward pack and power runners in the centres to grind out a win. They are unlikely, however, to match any other team in the competition for creative backline play and length of the field tries. If they attack like they did in the trials, with one or two out hit ups forming the basis of their play, they will not score a lot of points. Once they get to the red zone they might be able to muscle their way over – especially since they look like having a strong set piece.