Preview: Reds v Force

04th Apr 2014, 07:27

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Outside break: Ben Tapuai

Outside break: Ben Tapuai

The stuttering giant against the surging upstart, Saturday sees the Reds host the visiting Western Force at Suncorp Stadium.

The stuttering giant against the resurgent upstart, Saturday sees the Reds host the visiting Western Force at Suncorp Stadium.

2014 is turning out to be a bit of a mixed bag for the Reds. There was a hard-fought win over the Stormers last week, their third of the season, but it was far from convincing.

Injuries have played a role in the makeup of the backline and do so once again this weekend against the Force, with Jamie-Jerry Taulagi making his debut.

There's no Aidan Toua, Chris Feauai-Sautia or Lachie Turner - starters the three of them - and that's part of the reason why the Reds' attack has looked a little wayward in recent times.

Quade Cooper at least continues to inspire and mature; his drop goal against the Stormers was clinical and well-timed considering the nature of the match.

Similarly in the pack Liam Gill has fallen to injury, the tenacious young openside a key figure at the breakdown the Reds now must do without.

There's a view that the Reds got the rough end of the stick when playing in South Africa against the Sharks and Lions, and it's not a completely unfair assessment. The officiating in both matches when it comes down to the penalty counts is probably best described as "questionable."

But top teams roll with those setbacks and don't look to them for excuses.

No one is expecting the Reds to repeat their title success from 2011, which indicates that somewhere along the line things have slipped off. The squad depth is full of young but unproven talent, as Cooper and Will Genia and James Horwill work to haul the team back to the top.

It probably doesn't help the Reds that the Force are tearing up the form book.

Three wins from five matches actually puts the Force above the Reds in the Australian Conference.

Their season was kickstarted by the first-half thrashing handed out to the Rebels in their third match and they haven't looked back, somehow taking down the Chiefs in Perth a couple of weeks ago.

Put it down to the effort of their pack, which is majorly boosted this week by the return of Ben McCalman at number eight.

Much of the talk following the Rebels thrashing was of doing it for Matt Hodgson, the Force skipper who quite clearly loves this club and feels that in return. Hodgson has been a beast this season around the ruck area and in defence, setting the tone for a pack full of physical bodies such as Wilhelm Steenkamp and Sam Wykes who are starting to dictate close contests.

It would be wrong not to mention Nathan Charles either, whose exploits should really catch the eye of Wallaby selectors.

Nick Cummins is obviously loved for his quips, but he's also the Force's best player and best finisher out on the wing.

That said, aside from The Honey Badger the Force's attack lacks sparkle, making the fewest metres and carries so far of any team in the tournament. That will have to change if they are to compete seriously for honours. But you can't deny their spirit.

Prediction: Despite the Force's form and the Reds not quite finding the right gear so far this season, Richard Graham's men should take this one by a narrow margin. Reds by five.

Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Pettowa Paraka, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Fainga'a, 23 Jonah Placid

Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Solomoni Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Marcel Brache.

Date: Saturday, April 5
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 18:40 (local, 08:40 GMT)
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: James Leckie (Australia), Ian Smith (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)