Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away. Is it the same for rugby teams?
In early 2004, the Queensland Reds started to fade away badly in the Super 12 competition and although they didn’t completely expire, suffered the tortures of the damned.
The statistics speak for themselves: 2004 10th (Super 12), 2005 10th (Super 12), 2006 13th, 2007 14th, 2008 12th and 2009 13th.
I’ve just looked at the QRU Annual Report for 2004/2005….oh f*ckin yawn, does he have to? Indulge me for a moment, puhleeze? And these are some of the names I found mentioned:
Drew Mitchell, Richard Brown, Nathan Sharpe, Tai McIsaac, Luke Doherty, Rudi Vedelago, Junior Pelesasa, Digby Ioane, Brock James, Scott Daruda, Brett Sheehan, Josh Valentine
Plus second-tier players:
Matt Windle, Tajhon Mailata, Vitori Buatava, Josh Fuimono, David Te Moana, Ben Ward, Pat O’Connor, David Pocock (Schoolboy Player of the Year) and Tom Hockings (Colt of the Year).
Now, we all know where this lot ended up – about 16 of them in one season. Even though the slide had begun earlier, Queensland rugby could not sustain the losses and was gutted for years afterward.
This was probably a unique event and not repeated with the new Rebel’s franchise (although they would’ve if they could’ve), but I’m highlighting ‘before’ and ‘after’ here!
If you don’t know your history you’re destined to repeat it and when it’s time to expand again (Western Sydney, Gold Coast, Gosford or Adelaide?) you need to avoid it.
Fast forward to 2011. You could say there’s now an embarrassment of riches? Eleven current and former Wallaby forwards, seven international backs. Geez, what’s changed?
You’ve got to give Phil Mooney his due. He was responsible for introducing and developing some genuine young talent, many of whom graduated from his time as an Australian and Reds age grade coach.
Inexperienced at Super 14 level and maybe promoted too early, he didn’t quite cut the mustard but his time might come again.
The bankrupt Reds’ administration was eventually slaughtered, with a more professional outfit ensconced and finally getting their act together.
They recruited Le Link, unceremoniously dumped from La Pink. Mad Max’s loss was the Reds’ gain, as it turns out.
Blossoming players + worldly coach + French Queensland flair + stars align = oh bliss, bliss and heaven!
This year, the three questions on most people’s lips would be: 1) Is it your shout? Is there life after Daniel Braid? 2) How deeply will ‘second season syndrome’ affect the team? 3) Maybe as John Marston would say: “Are the Reds gonna f*ck with the Tah’s heads or what?”
Do I think the Reds are stronger this year than last? Infinitely, yes. Seven or eight have been exposed to international rugby for the first time and although it was a baptism of fire for some you don’t get a more rewarding experience than some Pommy prop jamming your head right up your blerta….
Daniel Braid? Well, you can’t replace him unless you’ve signed Bam Pocock, Phil Waugh, Matt Hodgson or George Smith. And they haven’t.
Who’s buggered off, retired or gotten Le Flick? Laurie Weeks, Sean Hardman, Adam Byrne, Morgan Turinui, Blair Connor, Dana Edwards, Andrew Shaw, Charlie Fetoai (injured), Brando Va’aulu, Jack Kennedy, Tasi Luafuti and Ezra Taylor.
Who’ll really be missed? Laurie Weeks, Sean Hardman and Morgan Turinui the most I’d suggest. Hardman played 148 games for Queensland with his last game against the Highlanders in 2010.
In his early matches against the same opposition he was packing down against an All Blacks front-row of Kees Meeuws, Anton Oliver and Carl Hoeft. A great servant of Queensland rugby and difficult to replace, hooker being one of the Red’s weaknesses this year.
Laurie Weeks will be a significant loss. He has steadily developed into a quality tighthead and there aren’t too many around in Australia who’ll better him, maybe only Le Fuse and James Slipper.
I’ve said before that his move to the Melbourne Rebels probably won’t do him any favours as, apart from the Rebel Army, not too many punters will anticipate his franchise being at the forefront of achievement this season.
I was disappointed that Turinui was disposed of so early in last season’s Super 14. Obviously Link doesn’t rate him (he cut him from the Tahs previously) but in the early games he was looking quite accomplished, was a form player and a leader.
Sure, Chambers is a great prospect but not taking Turinui to South Africa and using his skill-set was a mistake in my view. Week Seven and there’s his career gone (with players like Tapuai, Va’aulu and Anthony Faingaa ahead of him).
Maybe there were other issues involved? I thought he deserved better. He did deserve better!
Part 2 of this post will get to the nitty gritty of whose up who, and who hasn’t paid….and we’ll name and shame them! But really, we’ll talk about the players and their prospects.