The Bob Templeton Cup is the prize, but bragging rights will be the year-long reward, as the Queensland Reds host the New South Wales Waratahs this Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium.
Each team’s season lays precariously on the edge of oblivion with sole focus now on results in the Australian conference. With wins against the foreign teams a rarity, which Aussie team that makes the finals will be determined largely on when they face off in local derbies.
The Waratahs season is in free-fall after being embarrassed by the (previously) bottom of the table Kings. The Kings were at the end of a draining Australian tour in which both the Western Force and the Queensland Reds managed to run up close to a half century of points against them in their respective match-ups. The Waratahs, in comparison, were lucky to score a very lucky late consolation try last weekend as the Kings were in the midst of opening their champagne bottles in celebration of their dominant performance.
The Reds are on a winning streak having not been beaten for a couple of weeks. The young team managed to blunt the dangerous Kings attack in front of their passionate home crowd with Eto Nabuli, Karmichael Hunt and Izaia Perese mesmerising the visiting South Africans with eye-catching performances. It continues an impressive season at home where the Reds have beat all-comers from South Africa while putting the table topping Crusaders and Hurricanes under all sorts of pressure before succumbing to narrow losses.
It is panic stations in Tah-land as coach Gibson has made mass changes to the side outplayed by the Kings. The tight five, so clinically taken apart last weekend, are almost completely re-shuffled with Paddy Ryan, Tolu Latu and Will Skelton gone from the starting team with Sekope Kepu, Hugh Roach and Dean Mumm thrown to the fire. Kepu’s return from a vicious off the ball incident against the Hurricanes sees young Tom Robertson switched from tight head to loose head.
Further out the juggling continues with the rookie Jake Gordon, tipped by many (Waratah) fans to earn a Wallaby cap this year, dumped from the squad as Nick Phipps gets another turn to prove his worth. Matt Lucas, the little brother of former Queensland Reds star Ben, comes onto the bench.
The Reds are looking rock solid as their backline combination remains unchanged once again. While the Tahs see their Wallaby hooker depart, the Reds have the luxury of recalling the Wallaby captain to add some further mongrel up front. It is the only change to the starting team that was so impressive in their last outing.
The Reds bench is equally impressive with the luxury of bringing in Wallaby backrower Leroy Houston alongside Izack Rodda, seen by many as the next Brad Thorn. The Reds are also fortunate to be able to call on boom boy Hamish Stewart, who has been released by the Australian Under 20 squad, to provide his impact from the bench.
Players to Watch
Every Queensland fan will feel a pang of regret, mixed with a tinge of pride, when they see McDuling run out again at Suncorp Stadium this weekend. ‘Dools’ was coasting along in the messy rugby environment that is the Sydney Shute Shield until he was plucked out of obscurity to take up a much sort-after squad member role with the Queensland Reds.
Injury plagued his time at Ballymore but he grew as a player and wore the jersey with pride and captained the inaugural Brisbane City side in their legendary first NRC premiership back in 2014. After a couple of seasons in New Zealand and South Africa, McDuling has now found his way back to Sydney hoping to impart some of the wisdom and experience he gained from these true rugby powerhouses.
Folau first caught the eye of the Australian sporting public when he starred at the Australian Under 15 league Championships where he was picked for Queensland after standing out for his school Marsden State High. Australian Schoolboys selection soon followed before he was plucked from his home state to prop up an expansion league side in Melbourne. His class remained and national and state selection soon followed.
Eventually Folau would make the switch to rugby and signed for the Waratahs with the usual contract stipulation of Wallaby selection to follow. When the inevitable happened, Folau was never more comfortable than when he was playing in front of his beloved Queensland crowd and he was brilliant on his test debut against the British and Irish Lions at Suncorp Stadium.
His form has plateaued since but he still is the go to man for the Waratahs. So much so that coach Daryl Gibson has had his team carry a rope to training this last two weeks to give them all the experience of carrying something just like Folau does every weekend.
Talakai has been an unheralded workhorse and leader in this Queensland team as it looks to re-establish itself as the Australian rugby powerhouse. Like McDuling, Talakai received an opportunity of a lifetime when he got the invitation to move away from Sydney and take his game to a new level at Ballymore.
There’s no doubting that Talakai would have had a Wallaby jersey by now had he stayed in NSW, playing for Sydney University, but the fact he opted to move to Queensland to himself as a person and a rugby player is a hallmark of the man himself.
It’s almost criminal to think that Lukhan Tui – this 200cm, 125kg machine of a man – did not actually play rugby until just a few years ago. With NSW development programs clearly failing, Tui made the wise move to move north and develop his game under the tutelage of one of the proudest of Queenslanders, Brad Thorn.
Such is the depth of the locking position in the Reds squad that Tui has had to share playing time between his fellow Queenslanders in Kane Douglas and Izack Rodda with Cardeyrn Neville struggling to get a look in.
What to Expect
Hopefully some of this:
And a little of this:
And then some of this:
Oh and this:
With the Waratahs looking for a try bonus point in this game, expect the Reds to win by 45.