Thorn’s side sweat on locks, JOC for Hurricanes opener as Petaia set for 15 role

  • February 21, 2023

Brad Thorn isn’t about to put the boots back on, but the Queensland Reds are sweating on the fitness of a couple of their locks as well as playmaker James O’Connor ahead of their Super Rugby opener against the Hurricanes in Townsville.

With Angus Blyth on the mend from a syndesmosis injury, the Reds are hoping that Ryan Smith (shoulder) and Luke Jones (neck) return in time for their crunch match in North Queensland. The duo are considered outside chances to run out against their trans-Tasman rivals.

The locks aren’t the only cause for concern for the Reds, with O’Connor slowly making his way back from ankle surgery.

While fullback Jock Campbell, who is likely to pop up at 10 during the year too, is also expected to miss the opening round, as he too recovers from an ankle injury suffered against Scotland during last year’s Spring Tour.

Jordan Petaia of the Reds celebrates a tryduring the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between the Queensland Reds and the Fijian Drua at Suncorp Stadium on March 12, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Jordan Petaia is expected to start at fullback against the Hurricanes in the absence of Jock Campbell. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Reds, who of course are without Taniela Tupou for the season, with Thorn’s side possessing one of the best hottest backlines in Super Rugby and a back-row with plenty to prove.

Even up front the Reds have something to offer, with Fijian international Peni Ravai the buy of the Super Rugby season.

How Thorn configures his backline will be fascinating, particularly when everyone is fit.

For now, Thorn will be sweating on O’Connor’s fitness.

The 32-year-old might have been cut adrift by Dave Rennie during last year’s Rugby Championship, but the playmaker has been one of Australia’s best performers in Super Rugby since returning ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Fortunately his absence last year allowed for Lawson Creighton to spend some much needed time in the saddle.

The versatile back is likely to step into the playmaking role should O’Connor be ruled out while Tom Lynagh is expected to receive some game time this year.

James O'Connor passes the ball.

James O’Connor is racing the clock to be fit for round one but the Reds have at least got game time into their deputy Lawson Creighton. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Just as they were last year, Lynagh’s silky skills were on display throughout the trial matches but there remains some concern about whether he can physically stand up to the rigours of Super Rugby at this stage of his burgeoning career.

Isaac Henry could start in the midfield at some stage throughout the season, but for now Hunter Paisami and Josh Flook shape as one of the most exciting centre combinations in Australia.

Flook has the ability to play on the wing too, which could allow Henry to start in the centres if anything happens to Thorn’s flying wingers.

Out wide Jordan Petaia is expected to start at fullback given Campbell’s injury, while there is plenty of speed and power in Suliasi Vunivalu and Filipo Daugunu.

Vunivalu has been a conspicuous absence for the Reds thus far, but he is just the physical presence that will have Eddie Jones licking his lips about.

Harry Wilson of the Reds breaks through the defence

Harry Wilson will be hoping a new Wallabies structure has him back in the frame for the World Cup. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

In the back-row, Harry Wilson has an opportunity to explode back into the reckoning after a coaching change at the Wallabies.

While Rob Valetini had been Rennie’s preferred No.8, Wilson remains one of the most exciting loose forwards in Australian rugby and his combination with Tate McDermott and Fraser McReight is salivating.

Given the injury crisis in the second-row, Liam Wright might have to shift into the second-row alongside Seru Uru.

Up front, Sef Fa’agase is likely to start up front alongside Dane Zander, while Zane Nonggorr and Raval, who was a late pick-up from Clermont, should provide great back-up.

Matt Faessler is shaping to start ahead of Richie Asiata at hooker in the absence of the injured Josh Nasser.

One thing is for certain, the Reds need to aim up against New Zealand opposition for more Queenslanders to feature for the Wallabies at the World Cup.

While Queensland fans liked to cry foul last year when some of their stars were dropped, the reality is they came off a season where they didn’t beat New Zealand opposition once. In two years, the record stand 1-9.

Of course, there are reasons for that – injury to key players and form – but the Reds know they must improve against their rivals across the ditch to go deep in the Super Rugby competition and, indeed, feature prominently for the Wallabies.

Jones’ subtle selection clue ahead of the Super Rugby launch in Sydney was telling.

“Now the other thing about Super Rugby, the games against the Crusaders or the games against whoever the next strongest New Zealand side is, they’re important selection games,” he said.

“Because that’s where we’ll see the level of the players and of course the local derbies.”

Here is our predicted Reds side to take on the Hurricanes:

15: Jordan Petaia

14: Suliasi Vunivalu

13: Josh Flook

12: Hunter Paisami

11: Filipo Daugunu

10: James O’Connor

9: Tate McDermott

8: Harry Wilson

7: Fraser McReight

6: Liam Wright

5: Ryan Smith

4: Seru Uru

3: Sef Fa’agase

2: Matt Faessler

1: Dane Zander


Richie Asiata, Peni Raval, Zane Nonggorr, Lopeti Faifua, Connor Anderson, Kalani Thomas, Lawson Creighton, Isaac Henry  

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