The Rugby experience can be an immensely personal one. Whilst the game is a fantastic unifier, the experience and perception of that experience can vary dramatically from one fan to another. This web site, and the attached forum, is a wonderful case study of this as a game (or even a moment in a game) can result in any number of reactions from any number of people.
I know personally I have a great passion for the game. This passion extends to both the Queensland Reds and the Australian Wallabies. I know that my passion for them can sometimes get in the way of a perhaps impartial perspective of these teams. I also acknowledge that my viewpoint on them can be at times too critical because of my loyalty to them, and at other times arguably too lenient (or perhaps optimistic) due to this same loyalty.
Like I said. A personal response. So now, a few days after the season has completed, it’s time for my personal Reds season review. Since Jim Tucker stole my completely original theme of “Good, Bad and Ugly”, I’ve tried to approach this a little differently.
What I’ve loved this season:
Everyone seems to bemoan the fact that Australian Rugby doesn’t replicate the more centralised model that New Zealand Rugby boasts. If we did then perhaps the results wouldn’t matter so much as the Wallabies we create.
So putting aside the results for a bit, I was stoked to see Nick Frisby and Samu Kerevi (a couple of Finsbury Girls from the GPS club) run out for their test debut in front of a home crowd at Suncorp Stadium. Both selections were completely deserved and the two will hopefully be hanging around Ballymore for many years to come as they are key leaders within the team, as well as vital attacking weapons.
At the other end of the scale we saw a number of rookies making their Reds debuts this season, or backing up from debuts made last year. Whilst it’s always a risk trying to guess which ones will make it and which ones won’t, there’s certainly a handful that caught the eye.
Taniela Tupou is the obvious one with three memorable performances towards the end of the season. Campbell Magnay actually played a handful of games last year, probably too early, but in 2016 showed maturity in his game as well as energy and raw ability that indicates he has much to offer at this level. Duncan Paia’aua was another who featured last year, albeit in just one match, but displayed a more accomplished game when given the chance this year. Whether 10 ends up being his spot may rely on other signings, but he’s Super Rugby quality for sure.
Andrew Ready has been a wonderful performer in 2016 building on from his 2015 debut, and was rewarded with selection in one of the iterations of the Wallaby squad mid-year. Throw in the likes of James Tuttle, Michael Gunn, Lukhan Tui, Henry Taefu, Alex Gibbon, Junior Laloifi and Matt Mafi and the QLD Rugby production continues to breed hope.
The Season High(landers):
Remember this? It’d be a shame to have the memories of this fantastic win fade into the fog that was the rest of the season. Well, at least the first half. Gilly over within 3 minutes. Kerevi putting Nabuli away to set up Pickle, and then Eto returning the favour and putting Kerevi over. Three tries to zip at half time! It took us all by surprise none the least, it would seem, the Reds. Because in the 2nd half it was like your regular broadcast had resumed as the Landers stormed back into the match. Putting behind them two disallowed tries the table topping Kiwis put the Reds under all sorts of pressure as our boys clung on for a one point win.
New Boy Nabuli:
This is kind of an outlier for mine as I haven’t really stood anyone out on their own but I feel the need to do that for Nabuli. Let me make it clear, I’m not saying he was our standout player, but I loved what he did for us this year. I knew nothing of Nabuli prior to this year. Saw some highlights once he’d signed and read some stories. Nine or so months later, he’s copped a little bit of flack and I think a lot of it’s unfair.
He seems to have been targetted for his defence despite his tackle success rate putting him 4th amongst all Australian wingers (behind the Waratah trio of Naiyaravoro, Horne and Guilford) and he seems to have paid the price for two of the more embarrassing missed tackles (v Crusaders and v Rebels). But give me a big and fast winger who misses a tackle or two, over a pedestrian attacker who can tackle, any day. Reds fans who have been crying out for the return of Digby should get over him, because Eto could be the new man in town.
What I left me shaking my head:
The Coaching machinations:
Soooooo many questions. But here’s the top three.
- Richard Graham was reappointed in the off-season but then axed two games in – why reappoint him in the first place if just two losses are all it took? It nullified an entire pre-season and just weakened the reputation of QRU head office. I think the answer comes in the fact that different people were in senior positions at the time of the different decisions, but it was a shocker regardless.
- Why Co-Interim Head Coaches? It remains one of the most bizarre titles, let alone appointments in sport and I am sure the QRU regretted it almost immediately. When the Head Coach is axed for, among other reasons, confusing the messaging then surely appointing two head coaches isn’t going to make it clearer?
- What happened in June? The season can basically be broken down into three portions. Take a look below:
So basically, we won nothing under Graham, improved dramatically after that (our three wins of the season, a draw and two bloody close losses) and then the test break happens. And we come back and our results were worse than under Graham. Now I think our structures were still better and we showed more enterprise (we at least scored some tries) but the game went downhill, most notably our defence. Was it a fitness thing, more mixed messaging or were the off-field distractions just too much? I don’t have the answers but it’s a massive wake up call for whomever coaches next year.
Look, I don’t want to single out Chris Feauai-Sautia here as the guys still a kid (22!) but he would have to be one of the most confounding players in Australian Rugby. I don’t think anyone will dispute his abilities or, dare I say it, potential, but despite making his Super Ruby debut five seasons ago (and his Wallaby debut a year later) it’s hard to see that Chris’s game has developed at all.
In one moment we see glimpses of brilliance such as his scintillating try against the Hurricanes. The next minute (and too often the minute after that, and then the next minute too) he’s being found out of position or seems to be making no effort to chase a kick or defender. I don’t know what the answer is and I’m not convinced it’s a season in Japan as is rumoured to be happening but if we can find a coach who can find his “On” switch, it’d be nice.
Yeah ok, I fell for it. Put it down to a little bit of that blind faith I spoke about earlier. We needed a goal kicker right? Yep, and this one kicked a few at the RWC. I’d never seen him before but he scored that try v the Boks! Could be a handy fullback with Karmichael an option in the centres.
But yeah, then reality. But not before a barrage of marketing and media all tailored directly at the Japanese market and our newly signed doorway to the Asian market. I’ll be fascinated to see how Goro goes at Toulon and whether this was just a massive form blip, because he really was quite average. Slow and non threatening in attack. Defensively lacking in technique. Even his kicking was pretty average.
I’m not sure which office at Ballymore went after his signature in the first place, but I hope there were lessons learnt regardless.
What made me angry this season:
To me Liam Gill is the type of man you build a franchise around. I know there are always two (or more) sides to a story, but to me Gill is a player you bend over backwards to keep. He would’ve been my captain from the off-season (assuming he would’ve wanted it) and I still find it hard to believe he’s leaving. Greg Holmes doesn’t have as much rugby left in him as Gill but when we are signing players like Steve Moore and George Smith for their experience, then I would’ve liked to have Homer around a little longer.
All up we’ve lost 600 odd caps this season on top of the 800 odd last season. That’s a fair bit of experience, culture, and winning success that’s gone. That stuff is hard to replace. And on the other end of the scale? I still think we’ve lost a goodun in Sam Greene. But I’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
For mine the most glaring issue across the season was our poor skill level. Our handling was terrible and the stats back it up. We finished the season with the 2nd worst stats with 268 handling errors. Is it any wonder that our attacking figures (metres run, tries, clean breaks) were all towards the bottom of their respective tallies?
Unfortunately our work on the other side of the ball wasn’t too crash hot either as we came fourth on the missed tackle list behind the other cellar dwellers Kings, Sunwolves, Force and Reds (and equal with the Jaguares). I suspect getting a specialist defensive coach would be a top priority for the new Head Coach. As should up skilling the squad on the basics of catch and pass, as Mick Byrne had to do with the All Blacks to dramatic results.
The law of diminishing crowds:
It just hurts me to see how small the crowds have become. The last round against the Rebels was reported as 14,000 or thereabouts, but those in the know suggested it was nowhere near that and would go close to the all-time lowest Reds game attendance.
It hurts me, but I get it. There was mass outcry last year across the QLD Rugby family boycotting the re-appointment of Graham. The outcry was real and the crowds were small all season but the last game of 2016, a farewell to some Reds favourites, told a story that was pretty clear and damning. There is a lot of bridges to be rebuilt to get that crowd buzzing again at Fortress Suncorp.
My 2016 Reds Super Rugby Awards:
Player of the Year: Liam Gill
Best Back: Samu Kerevi
Best Forward: Hendrick Tui
Most Improved: Andrew Ready
Rookie of the Year: Eto Nabuli