The highflying highlanders are in Suncorp to take on the bottom placed Reds on Friday night.
The Reds come off the bye having, one hopes, spent a lot time having a darn good look at themselves after copping a fair old hiding by the Crusaders at home and then losing their unbeaten record to the Rebels which cost them Quade for the rest of the season, Ed O’Donaghue a red card and Kev Horwill $2500 for giving it both barrels in the post match interview. The Highlanders went up against Sir Ruchie’s boys last week and lost the game by two points and 3 cm of sideline whitewash in what was a belter of a game.
The Reds sit stone last on the table with 18 points whereas the Highlanders are 6th overall on 36 points, 3rd in the kiwi conference and really motivated to secure a playoff spot. They’ll clearly see this as a game they can win and probably even with a bonus point. For the Reds it’s about stopping the rot and being able to look themselves in the mirror and say that they’re not just there to make up the numbers.
Despite losing 30-32 against the Crusaders last week (a belter of a game which had the almost unprecedented sight of one Richard Hugh McCaw being sin-binned) the Highlanders will feel pretty positive about things. They did miss a lot more tackles than they’d like but they were literally inches from a win. They’ve got a pack which is abrasive and well drilled and their backline puts the frighteners on most teams. Malakai Fekitoa seems to have come from nowhere this seasonto being on the cusp of winning what will be the first of probably quite a few caps.
We all know about the Reds. Some injuries and suspensions have really thinned them out but to me they miss the go forward of Scott Higginbotham and Digby who used to pop off Quade’s shoulder and bash over the gain line, allowing him to take to chances knowing he could be dug out of a hole if needs be. That said, all is not doom and gloom. Before the wheels totally fell off the cart in the second 40 against Crusaders, they looked half decent. If they can play like that, well, who knows? Maybe Big Kev won’t have to cop a fine form the post match interview…
WIll Genia is set to get his 100th Cap and partnering him will be Ben Lucas who will replace the injured Quade Cooper. Saia Fainga’a (calf) and props Jono Owen (back) and Ben Daley (thumb) are all out for this week. Flanker Eddie Quirk was a late withdrawal from consideration after rupturing his ACL at training during the week. Already on the long term list are Chris Feauai-Sautia, Lachie Turner and Aidan Toua so it’s some good news that James Slipper returns from his ban for a lifting tackle.
Elsewhere, Rocket Davies swaps for Jamie-Jerry Taulagi who’s on the bench. The Reds will also be pleased to have Liam Gill on the bench and he’s joined by rookies Andrew Ready (hooker), Sef Faagase (prop) and Samu Kerevi (centre) who’d all make their debuts if they get a run.
The highlanders name an unchanged backline but up front swap Elliot Dixson onto the bench for Gareth Evans. An all new front row of Ma’afu Fia, Liam Coltman and Kane Hames replaces Kane Hames, Ged Robinson and Chris King, the first 2 of whom are on the bench while Mr and Mrs King’s favourite son drops out altogether.
It’s also Reds Indigenous Round at Suncorp Stadium, recognising both the Reds Indigenous Program and National Reconciliation Week, something this humble scribe thinks is a darn good thing.
Key Match Ups
Malakai Fekitoa looks like an able replacement in the New Zealand test side for when Nonu eventually retires and the annoying thing is, he seems to always play well at super level too. Ben Tapuai will have his hands full.
My heart would love to say the Reds will stop the rot but it’s hard to see where the strike power to do it would come from. I reckon the Highlanders, after a playoff spot will be just a bit too sharp and clinical so they’ll grab it by 7 to 10
Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Date: Friday, May 30
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19.40 local (09.40 GMT, 10.40 BST)
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
Television match official: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)