Playmaker final piece in Reds finals puzzle
A THREE-year window has been created by the Queensland Reds to finally transform into finals material if they can find the right flyhalf to run the most exciting collection of young rugby talent in Australia.
Coach Brad Thorn has confirmed his 34-man squad for the 2020 Super Rugby season but with a conspicuous question mark over the most important job in the team ... a playmaking No.10.
The squad has extra experience and dynamism in the backline with major signings James O'Connor and Henry Speight outside breakout spark Tate McDermott, a Wallaby halfback of the future.
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Powerful Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou leads the key figures who have been signed on four-year deals to give the Reds greater long-term stability and break the tedious cycle of constant contracting.
Lock Angus Blyth, Junior Wallabies skipper and flanker Fraser McReight, No.8 project Harry Wilson and McDermott have also signed four-year contracts until the end of 2023.
Prop Harry Hoopert, hooker Alex Mafi and utility back Hamish Stewart have re-committed for three years while boom World Cup Wallaby Jordan Petaia, 19, has three years to run on his four-year deal.
Having nine players on long-term deals is the Queensland Rugby Union's most significant strategy for holding onto core players since Super Rugby's birth in 1996.
Reds backs boss Jim McKay is the Queensland Country coach and will size up whether youngster Isaac Lucas is a No.10 option during the National Rugby Championship.
"We know what Bryce Hegarty and Hamish can do at No.10 and the NRC is a crucial time to have a look at what Isaac is capable of in the position," McKay said.
In total, 31 players of the current 34-man squad have been retained from this season which is clear sign they are on board with Thorn's tough love as a coach and bonds built along the Queensland rugby pathway from schoolboys and under-age teams.
Liam Wright, Angus Scott-Young, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika and Hegarty have also re-signed with the Reds for 2020-2021 while outside centre-winger Chris Feauai-Sautia will remain at Ballymore next season.
"Ninety per cent of our players have come through the system here in Queensland which goes to show what we're trying to do here," Thorn said.
"Nine of the lads have signed long-term deals to remain at Queensland and there's more to come which is a great sign for the future.
"We saw signs of improvement this year. We did some really good things but, ultimately, we were disappointed not to be playing finals footy.
"The majority of this group have been together now for close to four years. The longer we can keep these same men together, the sooner we'll see success."
Fijian backrower Seru Uru is one new face identified from club rugby who is capable of stepping up. He has been signed for 2020-21 after a strong season for Easts.
The Reds fumbled when Isi Naisarani was coming through the club ranks with Souths several years ago and should keep lamenting the fact they missed out on the Wallabies' impressive World Cup No.8 who now plays for the Melbourne Rebels.
Sean Farrell, Carter Gordon, Tom Kibble, Josh Nasser and Michael Wood have all been promoted into the Reds' Wider Training Squad.
Captain McReight's Brisbane City team will play Fijian Drua at Ashgrove in the NRC opener on Saturday afternoon while Lucas and Country will be in Perth playing the Western Force the same day.
A possible 2020 Reds starting XV: Fizzers or finals?...Bryce Hegarty, Henry Speight, Jordan Petaia, James O'Connor, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Isaac Lucas, Tate McDermott, Angus Scott-Young, Liam Wright, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Izack Rodda, Harry Hockings, Taniela Tupou, Alex Mafi, JP Smith.
2020 REDS SQUAD: Forwards: Angus Blyth, Sean Farrell, Feao Fotuaika, Harry Hockings, Harry Hoopert, Tom Kibble, Alex Mafi, Fraser McReight, Josh Nasser, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Scott-Young, JP Smith, Ruan Smith, Taniela Tupou, Seru Uru, Harry Wilson, Michael Wood, Liam Wright. Backs: Jock Campbell, Filipo Daugunu, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Carter Gordon, Jack Hardy, Bryce Hegarty, Isaac Lucas, Scott Malolua, Tate McDermott, James O'Connor, Jordan Petaia, Moses Sorovi, Henry Speight, Hamish Stewart.