QLD have a shocking draw. All the Kiwi sides and a bye in the first 6 weeks. Out of the 5 games, 3 are away games against the: Blues; Crusaders; and Chiefs - and the Reds do not play well in NZ. Then they battle all the SA sides (first 2 away) before feasting on 2 home derbies to select
The Reds are going to have to break a hell of a lot of hoodoos for them this year to even come close to making the semis. In addition to the 5 points from NSW in the second last game, they will have to defeat the Brumbies at Ballymore to scrape into the finals. Against what will no doubt be a fast finishing Brumbies side aiming at defending their title. Bugger! But by all means QLD prove me wrong and Iíll be bloody happy.
QLD's real chance of doing anything this year will depend upon their bench. Add last years horror run with injuries in that hexed no. 10 jumper, which used and abused 5 different players by the time they played
Props: Nick Stiles, Anthony Mathison, Pete Niumata, Rodney Blake
Hookers: Sean Hardman, Tai McIsaac, Stephen Moore
Locks: Nathan Sharpe, Rudi Vedelago, Daniel Leo
Back Row: John Roe, David Croft, Tom McVerry, Luke Doherty, Daniel Heenan
Halfbacks: Josh Valentine, Tim Atkinson, Nic
Fly halves: Elton Flatley, Julian Huxley, Brock James
Centres: Steve Kefu, Junior Pelesasa, Lloyd Johansson
Wingers: Wendell Sailor, Peter Hynes, Caleb Brown, Ben Tune
Full-backs: Chris Latham, Drew Mitchell
I reckon the labels for the backs are totally misleading - a bit like some kiwi sides to keep 5 fly-halves in their side. Summarising the main gains and losses:
∑ Brock James. This has to be the funniest gain of them all. Once again NSW has let another 5/8 slip through their fingers for good: Parks (Scotlandís 5/8); and Edmunds (best 5/8 in France last year) in their attempts to snare a high profile league recruit from Matt Rodgersí list of wet dreams (Braith Anasta). And the Andrew Johns saga.
The Hurricanes failure to secure Brockís signature due to the NZRFU lead to some interesting kiwi newspaper and (http://www.planetnz.com/rugbyheads/article.php?articleid=630) rugbyheads articles. Brock scored 120 points in the NPC and no doubt the experience for Naki, a side that beat Otago and
∑ Ben Tune: The return of Ben Tune could be a massive boost to the QLD campaign if: his knee or any other part of his anatomy doesnít snap in half again; and he doesnít take any Ďprescribedí banned drugs (hey itís been 2 years now). Despite being listed as a wing he will be playing at OC. He in my opinion he was one of the best wingers the Wallabies ever had. Deceptively big, he runs hard at the line, and he knows how to draw and pass; and kick (unlike Sailor). His experience (something kiwiís keep ignoring) will be a huge boost for the young backline.
∑ Nathan Sharpe has had a proper off season and has bulked up big time. From all reports he is a hell of a lot stronger and I am expecting him to be leading from the front all year.
∑ Adam Wallace-Harrison went to the Brumbies who wanted to bolster their second-row and loosie depth. I think he was still really recovering from injury last year and he is going to be a real gain for the Brumbies. ∑ Gene Fairbanks is another loss to Brumby land and he has talent. You blokes may remember his efforts against the Chiefs a couple of years ago. Fantastic speed and ability to break the line with clever angles and decisive stepping. ∑ Van Humphries: although not an outstanding player, he was solid and partnered Sharpe very well. Although moving Vedelago to the starting side should provide more all-round mobility and aggression in the tight-five despite his lack of experience.
∑ Adam Wallace-Harrison went to the Brumbies who wanted to bolster their second-row and loosie depth. I think he was still really recovering from injury last year and he is going to be a real gain for the Brumbies.
∑ Gene Fairbanks is another loss to Brumby land and he has talent. You blokes may remember his efforts against the Chiefs a couple of years ago. Fantastic speed and ability to break the line with clever angles and decisive stepping.
∑ Van Humphries: although not an outstanding player, he was solid and partnered Sharpe very well. Although moving Vedelago to the starting side should provide more all-round mobility and aggression in the tight-five despite his lack of experience.
Forwards: Niumata, McIssac, Mathison, Sharpe, Vedelago, Heenan/Doherty, Croft, Roe
Backs: Valentine, Brock, Hynes, Flatley, Tune, Mitchell, Latham
Millerís Likely Selection
Forwards: Stiles, Hardman, Mathison, Sharpe, Vedelago, Heenan, Croft, Roe
Backs: Valentine, Huxley, Hynes, Flatley, Tune, Sailor, Latham
Res: Niumata, McIssac, Leo, Doherty, Atkinson, Brock, Mitchell.
Niumata offers so much more around the park (and doesnít talk back to the ref). While McIssacís efforts leading the Gold Coast to their premiership win, with 30 odd skull stiches in him shows the blokes commitment. I think this tight-five combination offers more mobility, better scrummaging power and more determination at the breakdown.
Good news about McIssac is that he has been doing a lot of work at tighthead as well. So he might be able to plug gap as well and should get far more game time.
Iím worried that Heenan may breakdown again (last 2 years, shoulder injuries) that is why I have him pencilled in with Doherty. While I think its time for Sailor to be shown the door as Mitchell is a real player of the future and his combination with Hynes (both University) should be exploited. This would give more speed and skill to the side although he doesnít have Sailorís leg drive.
Despite my love/hate affair with Sailor, he will play all of this year (bar injury) especially after improving in the NH tour and as the crowd drawer but to me he isnít a long term prospect and he would probably be given permission to go west at the end of the year. So in my opinion the more experience Mitchell gets the better as he wasnít selected for the NH tour for nothing.
If QLD can get through the season without be savaged by injuries and they treat the poor draw as motivation then they could do better than I predict. However, if they fail to win any games in NZ then they will not be able to make the finals this year. And itís been a while since we won in NZ. But like I have been saying over the last few years who said you canít judge a season by winning one game? And I will be strutting around enjoying the howls of disappointment from all NSW supporters yet again.
God help me if we lose that game.