Ahead of the 2017 Super Rugby season we take a closer look at each of the 18 teams participating. Next up, the Reds.
After a disappointing campaign in 2016, things can only get better for the men from Brisbane. There’s plenty of excitement amongst Reds supporters as they have an exciting crop of players in their ranks.
The appointment of Nick Stiles as head coach was a shrewd one as he has had success as a head coach with Brisbane City in the Australian Rugby Championship in 2014 and 2015.
The signing of proven internationals like Quade Cooper, Scott Higginbotham, Stephen Moore and George Smith as well as experienced former Reds stalwart Leroy Houston means the Queenslanders should be competitive this year and don’t be surprised if they beat some of the more fancied sides, especially in Brisbane.
Last Year: 2016 was a year to forget for the 2011 champions who only managed to win three out 15 matches. After a poor start – where they suffered heavy losses to the Waratahs and Western Force – they parted ways with their head coach, Richard Graham. Nick Stiles and Matt O’Connor, who served as Graham’s assistants, took over as co-interim head coaches and their was an immediate improvement but they still lost their next match, albeit narrowly to the Rebels, before they claimed a deserved 25-25 draw with the Blues in Brisbane.
They continued to deliver competitive performances and after suffering a narrow loss to the Waratahs (15-13), they finally secured their first victory in Round 7 when they claimed a memorable 28-27 win over the defending champions the Highlanders in Brisbane. The Reds’ joy was short-lived, however, as they failed to build on that result when they went on their South African tour and subsequently suffered heavy defeats against the Bulls (41-22) and Stormers (40-22).
The returned to Australia and claimed a deserved 30-14 home win over the Cheetahs but were on the wrong end of a 30-5 result against the Crusaders in Round 11. They then lost 29-14 to eventual champions the Hurricanes in Wellington but returned to their winning ways in Round 13 when they beat the Sunwolves 35-25 in Brisbane.
They then headed to Canberra where they lost to the Brumbies and with little to play for, they finished their campaign with home losses to the Chiefs and Rebels. Despite that poor end to the season, they still finished in fourth spot on the Australian Conference, four points ahead of the bottom-placed Western Force.
This Year: The recruitment of experienced players like Moore, Smith, Cooper, Higginbotham and Houston should make the Reds a genuine threat to break up the Brumbies and Waratahs’ recent dominance of the Australian Conference.
Although the Reds play at home in two of their first three fixtures – against the Sharks and Crusaders – and will fancy their chances away to the Western Force in their third match, they then have difficult assignments against the Lions and Jaguares in Johannesburg and Buenos Aires respectively. Winning those two home matches and at least one of that three away fixtures will be a tremendous boost, as it would mark a massive improvement on their 2016 effort at the same stage of the tournament when they were winless after five rounds.
Things get trickier during the rest of the tournament with their away trips against the Chiefs, Blues and Highlanders, during the latter stages of the league phase of the competition, set to test the character and depth of the squad.
They will also be targeting wins in their Australian derbies, something which they were unable to do in six attempts in 2016.
Key players: After an underwhelming stint with Top 14 side Toulon, Quade Cooper will be keen to show that he still has plenty to offer at Super Rugby level. Cooper showed in 2011 – when he played a pivotal role in their triumphant camapign – that he is amongst the best fly-halves in the world.
His partnership with midfielder Samu Kerevi has lots of potential as Kerevi showed last year that he is one of the most potent attackers in this competition.
Wallabies captain Stephen Moore is also back in Brisbane and is expected to be a calming influence at the coalface of the Reds’ forward effort.
Players to watch: He might be 36 but Wallaby great George Smith is still one of the best flankers in the business. The 111-Test veteran knows his way around a rugby field and is expected to make a big impact for the Reds, who he joined on a two-year deal.
Another back-row who will be keen to impress is fellow Wallaby Scott Higginbotham, who returns to the Reds after a five-year absence – when he was with the Melbourne Rebels and the NEC Green Rockets in Japan.
Scrum-half Nick Frisby has come on in leaps and bounds in recent seasons and will want to continue where he left off in 2016.
Prospects: Although the Reds don’t have the best draw, they’ve recruited well and have a solid look about them this year. They have the ability to challenge for the Australian Conference but are unlikely to progress beyond the play-offs.
Players In: Markus Vanzati (Brisbane City), Alex Mafi (Queensland Country), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Izack Rodda (Queensland Country), George Smith (Wasps), Scott Higginbotham (NEC Green Rockets), Moses Sorovi (Brisbane City), Quade Cooper (Toulon), Lachlan Maranta (Brisbane Broncos, Jayden Ngamanu (Souths)
Players Out: Ben Daley (Western Force), Greg Holmes (Exeter Chiefs), Saia Fainga’a (Brumbies), Matt Mafi (Brisbane City), Ben Matwijow (Western Force), Curtis Browning (Lyon), Liam Gill (Toulon), Waita Setu (GPS), Lolo Fakaosilea (Brumbies), Jake Schatz (Rebels), Scott Gale (Western Sydney Rams), Sam Greene (Toyota Industries Shuttles), Anthony Fainga’a (Brumbies), Alex Gibbon (Brisbane City), Junior Laloifi (Brisbane City), Tom Banks (Brumbies), Ayumu Goromaru (Toulon), JJ Taulagi (Munakata Sanix Blues), Jack Tuttle (Norths)
Friday, 24 February v Sharks (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Saturday, 4 March v Western Force (nib Stadium, Perth)
Saturday, 11 March v Crusaders (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Saturday, 18 March v Lions (Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg)
Saturday, 25 March v Jaguares ( Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires)
Saturday, 1 April v Hurricanes (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Saturday, 8 April v Brumbies (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Saturday, 15 April v Kings (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Round 9: BYE
Saturday, 29 April v Waratahs (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Saturday, 6 May v Chiefs (tbc)
Saturday, 13 May v Rebels (AAMI Park, Melbourne)
Round 13: BYE
Friday, 26 May v Western Force (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Friday, 2 June v Blues (tbc)
Friday, 7 July v Brumbies (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Friday, 14 July v Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)