Yeah ok so there is still a week to go in the Super 14 season but this site is about content. So this is as good a time as any to look back on the season that was and check in on ten of the real highlights, from a purely Aussie perspective that is. And there’s is no more obvious place to start than the:
1) The Waratahs. Sure it’s great to see an Aussie team in the finals, but for me it is how they approached the season that was the big positive for the Tahs. They say it’s a sign of a good team that can win even when they’re not playing well. Well that’s what the Tahs did many times this season. They won ugly, sure, but shees they won pretty too!
2) Cooper & Genia. These two 22 year olds set the Super 14 alight in 2010! The Reds themselves shocked pretty much everyone by not only winning more than they lost, but they generally did it so mesmerizingly at times. At the heat of this was the performance of their young leaders in the halves. Cooper and Genia were simply brilliant for the Reds and put their opposition under tremendous pressure whilst at the same time proving their outside man opportunities galore.
3) Back 3s as a weapon of choice. Thanks to the combination mentioned in the 2nd point, the Reds back three of Peter Hynes, Digby Ioane and Rodney Davies were granted countless opportunities to take advantage of their speed and skill this year. The Waratah inside backs did not grant their back three the same opportunities, but they didn’t need to. Drew Mitchell has been almost unstoppable this year with Lachie Turner not too far behind. In recent weeks Kurtley Beale, finally getting a run at fullback, has been equally devastating. What a change from the regular kick and chase game preferred by many previous and current Australian teams.
4) Reds & Force imports. Yeah ok so Andre Pretorius was a complete dud, getting injured before kicking a ball in anger. But his replacement, David Hill, proved to be the composed and experienced playmaker that the Force were hoping Andre might be. Meanwhile on the east coast, Daniel Braid put in his best season for many a year in leading an inexperienced Reds pack to their own ‘best season for many a year.’
5) Young sky-scrapers. Damn. At the beginning of the year we were crying out for locks. Probably more so when Big Kev Horwill went down in the second round. But they soon came. First it was Kane Douglas, not even with a Waratah contract at the beginning of the year, and then Rob Simmons, belying a reputation as being soft. Both have been nothing short of excellent in 2010. Throw in Tom Hockings from the Force who is there or thereabouts and the lock stocks are a little more than two smoking barrels.
6) Tah Veterans. How good have Baxter and Waugh looked this year? Personally, I reckon it is the best they’ve played for a good two or three years. For Waugh, perhaps longer. Baxter, unfortunately, still features in a lot of collapsed scrums and scrum penalties. Whether it is his fault on the misconceptions of refs can be argued until the Super 15. But his mobility and work rate around the field have been of the highest calibre, and he was rewarded with his first Super try (shhh..keep quiet Ben Alexander). Meanwhile Phil Waugh has been inspirational. Throwing himself around like a first year rookie. Making tackles, hitting rucks, counter rucking. Superb.
7) Twin Attack. Ok, I’ll admit it. I’d all but written off the Faingaa boys at the start of the season. Whilst I saw ‘something’ in Anthony I thought his game was too limited for the highest level. Saia though? Pfft. Clearly a soft cock. No future whatsoever. How wrong I was and how happy was I to be. I couldn’t believe Link promoted Saia to the starting team in round 2 against the Crusaders of all people. But he was bloody fantastic and has been all season. Whilst Anthony, the Great Wall of Brisbane, provided the perfect foil for Quade Cooper in making tackles and running lines. Both should be recognised with Wallaby selection sometime this year.
8) Lucky 13! If we were worried about lock, we were somewhat panicked about outside centre. With Morty struggling for injury and Crossy never really cutting it we were reverting to playing both Diggers and AAC out of position. Fast forward six months and we’re rolling in riches. Yeah sure Digby and Ashley-Cooper are still awesome options. But what about the talent we’ve got in Rob Horne. He looks a ten year Wallaby if ever there was one (injuries permitting). Then there’s Will Chambers who has seemed to make the transition from league easier than most and has been a real boon for the Reds at out centre.
Out west though, Mitch Inman was thrown in at the deep end with a stack of Force injuries and has made every proverbial post a winner. He’s probably down the pecking order a bit but if the east coast was caught up in some sort of swine flu outbreak, then young Mitch wouldn’t let his country down by any means.
9) Smells like teen flankers. One of our most respected Bloggers here, Lee Grant, is a big believer in the generational trend of certain positions in Australian Rugby. For instance, the era of the fly half when we had Beale, Lucas, Cooper, Toomua and Lealiifano come through in quick succession. Well there’s seems another trend to develop this year, and that’s these teenage back rowers. Jake Schatz, at the Reds, was another player to come from outside the main professional squad to play a prominent role this season. He started in five games, more significantly in each of the back row positions. When George Smith got injured down at the Brumbies there was another couple to fill the bill in Colby Faingaa and Michael Hooper who both showed that the 7 jersey is in good hands at the Brumbies for quite a while. And then a little cameo by the firey red Ed Quirk in the Reds’ last game of the season was enough to demonstrate that we may well see much more of him come 2011!
10) Prodigal sons. Pretty much all of the teams this year were well and truly tested by injuries at various times. They coped in various ways. Some called on rookies, to various success. Some went the other way. The Force called back veteran, and local favourite, Scott Staniforth. He came back and played like he’d never been away, and one has to wonder why he was allowed to leave in the first place. The Reds went a little further into left field when they called up the big man Radike Samo to cover a lock injury curse. So impressive have both been that the Reds have signed Samo for 2010 whilst Stani is considering options from the Brumbies and Rebels.
But if there’s one comeback that blew them all out of the water this year, it was that of Julian Huxley. Now I can’t say anything more or better than what has already had thousands of words written on it all ready. But that was Disney movie stuff. To think what he’s had to go through to get himself back to where he is now – a marketable commodity with teams chasing his signature is just an absolute credit to everyone. Jules, his family, the doctors, the Brumby organisation as a whole. But particularly to Huxley himself because in the end it was his absolute belief in himself that made this happen. One of the most significant moments in Australian sport, for all the right reasons, for many a year.