Queensland Reds 2019 Season Preview: The Core of Something Special? - Green and Gold Rugby
Queensland Reds

Queensland Reds 2019 Season Preview: The Core of Something Special?

The Engine Room of the Reds in 2018 will be counted on again in 2019. Credit Stephen Tremain
Queensland Reds 2019 Season Preview: The Core of Something Special?

This is the time of the year that rugby fans love- the time when their team is equal top of the table, and in most cases, anything is possible. All teams are equal, though some are perhaps more equal than others.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at the 2019 Reds squad, where we can see the results of Brad Thorn’s “culture” regime taking shape in his first full off-season in charge. While on the face of it there seems to be some key changes, bear in mind that two of the biggest names out the door didn’t pull on the jersey last year.

It was a time for the kids to take charge, with the exception of ageless George Smith. So read on for my look at the squad, and join myself and other GAGR stalwarts for some predictions about how they think things will pan out.

The Reds will be looking to Samu Kerevi to lead from the front in 2019

The Reds will be looking to Samu Kerevi to lead from the front in 2019

Squad Make-up:

Props: The core of what has been a dominant scrum for the last few seasons return, with the addition of Gav Luka (Bond Uni) and Feao Fotuaika (Souths). I don’t expect either to have massive game times having seen them in club and NRC the last few years. The loss of James Slipper will be felt, even with him not playing much last season. Look for the Smith twins to challenge for Wallaby squad spots once their eligibility issues are sorted.

        Returning: Taniela Tupou, JP Smith, Ruan Smith, Harry Hoopert

        Gone: Sef Fa’agase, Markus Vanzati, James Slipper

Hookers: After an astonishing first season of Super Rugby, look for Brandon Paenga-Amosa to come on strong again in 2019. After a baffling end of season snub by Wallaby coach Michael Cheika he will have a lot to prove early on. Efi Ma’afu, the U20 Australia hooker for the last few years is now a permanent squad addition and should be an effective bench option with Alex Mafi.

        Returning: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Alex Mafi

        Gone: Andrew Ready

Locks: The loss of Kane Douglas hasn’t really been mentioned too much but his experience in the young pack shouldn’t be overlooked. However, the sheer volume of skilled players in the engine room mean it shouldn’t be a crisis. Wallabies and future Wallabies abound here, and another season together will surely be a good thing. One to watch is how Lukhan Salakaia-Loto bounces back from the well-publicised personal issues that derailed his end of year campaign.

        Returning: Angus Blythe, Harry Hockings, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto

        Gone: Kane Douglas

Backrow: As with the locks, it is a case of there being a plethora of riches and many young tyros looking to forge a long career. The loss of George Smith does hurt here to an extent as 7 is now the only spot where there probably isn’t a proven player to go in. Imagine how strong this pack would have been had the rumours of a Liam Gill return proved accurate. At this point I would expect either Liam Wright or Fraser McReight to fill the spot. Elsewhere, the likes of Caleb Timu, Scott Higginbotham and Angus Scott-Young will look to muscle up and dominate play.

        Returning: Caleb Timu, Scott Higginbotham, Adam Korczyk, Liam Wright.

        Gone: George Smith, Michael Gunn, Reece Hewat

The 7 jersey is Liam Wright's for the taking

The 7 jersey is Liam Wright’s for the taking

Halfback: There is some stability in the position this year with the departure of Nick Frisby confirmed. 2018 saw the combination of Tate McDermott and Moses Sorovi nail down the two squad roles with James Tuttle left to cool his heels in Premier Rugby. It will be interesting to see if anything changes here in 2019. Last season they were solid if not spectacular while playing behind a dominant set piece, so you would expect some advancement, especially with more clarity in the spots outside them.

        Returning: Tate McDermott, Moses Sorovi, James Tuttle

        Gone: Nick Frisby

Flyhalf: This year is Hamish Stewart’s opportunity to make this jersey his. After a 2018 of having the spectre of Quade Cooper loom over him it seemed at times that he was a little spooked at times. With Cooper heading south and no headline competition brought it, it is clear Brad Thorn sees Stewart as the man to guide the Reds into 2019 and beyond. Matt McGahan has come from NZ via Japan and will be a useful option both here and at 12, with Teti Tela providing some depth. Newly minted Red Bryce Hegarty is also an option here, although word is he is being ear-marked for the fullback spot.

        Returning: Hamish Stewart, Teti Tela

        Gone: Ben Lucas, Jono Lance, Quade Cooper

Centres: With the outside backs in a state of flux, the centres should, injury aside, provide some more stability and room for the halves to grow. There is little doubt that when on song, Samu Kerevi is one of the most damaging runners in Australian rugby, and it appeared towards the end of last season that his oft-maligned defence was on the improve. Combine that with the nouse of Duncan Paia’aua or the bullocking Chris Feauai-Sautia and things are looking up. When you consider that 2018 revelation Jordan Petaia is more naturally a centre and a position that looked threadbare last years seems loaded now.

        Returning: Samu Kerevi, Duncan Paia’aua, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jordan Petaia

Outside Backs: There seems to be have been more movement here than anywhere, as Queensland struggle to rekindle the kind of wing play of years past. Just as we started to finally see decent play from Eto Nabuli he was off to France, and the loss of Izaia Perese may yet come back to haunt. My fears about the loss of Perese were softened somewhat by the signing of Rebels livewire Sefa Naivalu, and he will be looking to rekindle his Wallaby form in Brisbane. Lachlan Maranta struggled to hold a place in the squad, and the official departure of Karmichael Hunt has left some holes. The returning Filipo Daugunu will be hoping to improve his defence to match his unique attacking flair. Jock Campbell wins a spot after a fantastic NRC campaign and speedster Will Eadie also gets a guernsey. Young Jack Hardy, son of former Wallaby Mitch has also been added for depth as a utility Expect Bryce Hegarty to win the 15 jersey from Aidan Toua.

        Returning: Filipo Daugunu, Aidan Toua.

        Gone: Karmichael Hunt, Lachlan Maranta, Eto Nabuli, Izaia Perese

Super Rugby Sefa Naivalu Melbourne Rebels

Will Super Sefa be super in a Red’s jersey?

Staff: Some shuffling here as Brad Thorn looks to make his mark in the backroom too. Jim McKay will handle attack while Peter Ryan will almost certainly shore up the occasionally shaky defence. The biggest wildcard here is the use of world renowned kicking guru Dave Alred. The Reds struggled mightily here last season both at the goal and in play.

The Big Questions:

 Can the Backs finally match the forwards? The pack has been the shining light of the Reds team for the last three seasons, but as the results will tell you, having a dominant scrum and lineout does not win you games. Teams have punished Reds errors and found ways to nullify an occasionally unimaginative backline. 2019 is the year that the back line will need to solidify, utilise the skills of Petaia, Naivalu, Daugunu et al and consistently put points on the board, then back it up with staunch defence.

Can anyone kick? Sounds odd, given I have seen Hamish Stewart hammer touchfinder after touchfinder in previous seasons as well as kick goals with metronomic precision. As the team improves, the margins will get tighter and the need for reliable points and metres will change from a crowd groan to howls of agony. Bringing in Dave Alred will help with this and hopefully flow through all season.

The Culture Movement: It was clear last year, even if unacknowledged, that Brad Thorn wanted to run things a certain way, and you were either on the bus, or under it. The change appears mostly complete, so now is the time to start reaping the rewards. Win or lose, there won’t be storylines about exiled players. Brad Thorn has made his bed and now is when he should start to see results. Last year was up and down (the insipid loss to the Sunwolves being a particular lowlight) but there were positives even in some of the losses.

Predicted Match Day Squad: 1. JP Smith 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa 3. Taniela Tupou 4. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto 5. Izack Rodda 6. Angus Scott-Young 7. Liam Wright 8. Caleb Timu 9. Tate McDermott 10. Hamish Stewart 11. Filipo Daugunu 12. Samu Kerevi 13. Jordan Petaia 14. Sefa Naivalu 15. Bryce Hegarty

16. Alex Mafi 17. Harry Hoopert 18. Ruan Smith 19. Angus Blyth 20. Adam Korczyk 21. Moses Sorovi. 22. Duncan Paia’aua 23. Aidan Toua

Notes- this is based on a 5-3 split of the bench, noting that Thorn tended to go 6-2 at points- if that was the case I would add Higginbotham to the bench and drop either Paia’aua or Toua. The announcement this week of Samu Kerevi as 2019 Captain gives further weight to the thought that with the continued development of the young tyros in the backrow, the role of Higginbotham will reduce.  

Will Brad Thorn smile in 2019?

Will Brad Thorn smile in 2019? Credit Stephen Tremain

Prediction Time:

Ben: The draw is relatively kind to the Reds this year, with only two trips to NZ and no visit to Argentina. After a bye in Rd 1, a start away to the Highlanders then home to the Crusaders will be a tough beginning. I suspect that by the time the team flies to South Africa for week 9 that we will know how the season will pan out. Three straight home games before that trip will allow a marker to be laid out.

 A good team really shouldn’t fear any opponent no matter where you play them and there really isn’t a game that at this point I can’t say we don’t have a chance. An early season win against a traditionally slow starting Crusaders team will be a great platform to build on. If we can avoid injuries and suspensions, something in the region of 9-10 wins isn’t out of the question and that would firmly put us in the finals mix.

Rugby Reg: On the back of some excellent off-field recruiting, a completely Brad Thorn group of players having a completely Brad Thorn pre-season (including actual trial matches) and a year’s more experience among the squad, there are definitely grounds to enter 2019 with more hope. I really like the look of the potential team, assuming it gets enough game time together but can they push for the finals? I’m not convinced yet and still feel they’ll finish below the other Aussie teams in the conference. To me it comes down to a couple of three game stretches, early in the season. Their first three games are bloody hard Highlanders (A), Crusaders (H) and Tahs (A). An upset in one and points in the others are a key building block for the rest of the season. Then the three home games from Round 6 (Brumbies, Rebels, Stormers) are all must wins. If we achieve that, then that’s when my hopes change.

Sucker for Red: Who is in the extended squad?

Flyhalf still as shallow as a paddling pool in winter. Stewart will be better than last year for the experience but it still gives me a sick in the guts feeling.
Duncan Paia’aua needs to be in the match day squad. Particularly for leadership.

Prediction – Fingers crossed for a finals appearance, but that might just be the rising optimism that we have all mentioned. Finishing better than last year will be a pass mark for me.

Ross: It doesn’t seem to matter what the previous year was like. Coming in to February, my Rugby optimism peaks. This year is no exception. I’m genuinely excited by what we might achieve. I’ll try and temper this with some realism though. 

There’s no easy run in Super Rugby but our schedule this year looks properly tough. With such a young squad, where we end up could be heavily dictated by how fast we start. We will be all about momentum (or lack of). We have an early home game against the defending champs, our next home games are in rounds 6, 7 and 8 and all three are on 6 day turnarounds. Then we fly to South Africa. If we can somehow weather the first half of the season and pick up a few wins then we could really come home with a wet sail.  

Realistically I’m expecting a small improvement on last season. We went 6 and 10 last year so I would expect this season to win more than we lose. If we can do that then come the pointy end we will be sniffing around a playoffs berth.  It might be a bit fanciful to imagine but I honestly don’t think it’s insurmountable. Go you REDS!


  • Simon

    A stronger team than last season IMO, both on the field and off, but unfortunately all the other squads in the conference are looking stronger too. If we get a few early wins we might surprise to the upside, but the risk seems to be that we get hammered in the tough early games, lose morale and confidence and then we could be in for a long season.

    We’re short on star power compared with the Tahs and Rebels (and of course every Kiwi team) but I feel like there’s decent depth at most positions now, where there hasn’t always been in the past few years. Should prove handy mid-season when the injuries inevitably start to mount.

    My bold prediction – Harry Wilson to be in the starting side by season’s end. He impressed me in the NRC, he’s a big unit already and still only 19. I think he could go ahead of both ASY and Korczyk in the pecking order.

    I’m living in NSW now (and the shame is real!) but I’ll be cheering the Reds on from afar.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Mate I’m not sure the star power you mention has ever been worth as much as it’s been promoted to be. I’d have a team of hard workers who listen over a bunch of Prima donnas any day of the week

    • IC Red

      Living in NSW has affected your judgement. In the NRC, when you take out the 5m run for his try, Wilson only averaged 1m per carry. I wouldn’t put him in a fantasy team and definitely not in the Reds. I hope he proves me wrong. Of the 19-20 year olds, McReight looks good and Eadie (if his defence holds up) will be great to watch as he is a classy attacker (faster than Rocket Rod and with better hands)

      • James

        Harry Wilson was the third highest try scorer last year in QLD Premier Rugby and he played either back row or lock. That is pretty impressive for a 18/19 year old his first year out of school.

        • IC Red

          I didn’t know he scored that many tries and it is impressive but I stand by my original statement. I only saw him play in 3 games in the Premier 2nd round plus the Colts 1 GF and there was more dross than gold in each game. The GF was particularly surprising where McReight and the Brothers front row stood out in the forward packs but Wilson only looked like a solid Colts player. He is big, mobile and has enthusiasm and I hope he does well but he makes more mistakes than a young Campese.

  • skip

    Brad lives or dies by this squad. He made the calls, he lives with the results, no excuses. It either works or we enter the 10th year of our 5 year rebuilding plan and he goes.

    That’s pretty much all I can say. I don’t know if he was right to cut the big names loose but I don’t like the way it was done. If you can’t coach a player with talent then you need think about your coaching skills. QC is coach-able. I digress. Do well or be gone is all there is.

  • sambo6

    So for this Reds fan – I’ll say that, on paper, the team looks pretty decent, and we could rattle a few cages this year….BUT (for me), the key missing ingredient is leadership…and I mean this in a number of senses….

    – Forwards: It looks like a great pack of wiling,young-ish tyros. But who is the leader of that pack? Who will grab them by the balls when the going gets tough? Who has the gravitas to get the boys following his direction? Maybe Rodda? Maybe JP? Maybe no one?
    – Flyhalf: Samu is the skipper, and that’s a great choice, but any rugby man knows that the tone of the backline is set by the flyhalf. Hamish Stewart has plenty of people giving him wraps….but i’ll be brutally honest….I’ve seen nothing yet that says to me he’s anything special. I’ve seen enough to say that he might mature into a sold, dependable option…but that’s hardly exciting or inspiring. Its great he makes all his tackles and has got a decent hoof, but I want to see this guy yelling and directing his backline this year like he owns the joint.
    – Coaching: This may seem like a strange one, as we all know Brad is the boss, and his shadow looms large over this team. But this is more about the tactical and strategic leadership of the team, last year I saw a lot of effort with very little nuance, I think the influence of Jim McKay will be critical here.

    SO there we have it…promising on paper, but how will they gel together?…and who will emerge as the leaders the team needs….?

  • James

    The Smith brothers to push for Wallaby spots??? This is the funniest thing I have ever heard. They are rubbish and are lucky to be playing Super Rugby.

    • RugbyReg

      what makes you think they are rubbish? I personally agree with the statement. I think they’re close to the best scrummagers in the country. They are brilliant and the turnover and are pretty bloody impressive in attack too, with a more than handy off-load game.

      • James

        You obviously didn’t much rugby last year.

        • RugbyReg

          nup, Just every Reds games, most of the games of the other Aussie Super teams, all the NRC and then tests, club and WSR stuff/

        • James

          well that’s your problem you watched all the reds games…

        • RugbyReg

          I find that’s the best way to see how those Reds players are going.

        • TOCC

          Reds had the most forced penalties at scrum time of all the Australian teams, and the most penalty tries awarded from their scrum, you don’t achieve that with only 1 good prop.

    • Brumby Runner

      They are not rubbish by any stretch of the imagination. But I am not sure they will be eligible this year for consideration as Wallabies.

    • Huw Tindall

      You sure we are talking about the same guys? The Smiths are real talent no fuss modern style props. First rate scrum and handy around the park and at the ruck. No Kepu silky hands or Tupou power running but I’d take them in a squad any day.

    • IC Red

      James, you seem to be in the minority here. The Smith bros are top notch srummagers and get around the field productively. Looking forward to watching them help demolish the Tahs scrum this year.

      • James

        The only prop of any quality that the Reds have is Tupou. There is no way in hell that the Smith brothers are better than him and will take his spot.

  • Brisneyland Local

    Happy Australia Day GAGR’s (apparently this is now an innappropriate saying like Happy christmas, but as I am an old bastard I will keep on using it). BL mad ramblings on the Reds:
    – I think the master stroke here is the coaching selection. Whilst BT is still to prove himself he has surrounded his self with very able assistants, and the best kicking coach in the world.
    – The forwards look great. I truly think that that is the nucleus of the Wallabies pack. Despite other commentary herre, I watched the Smith brothers a lot during the NRC and they looked like your typical no fuss hard graft Saffa forwards. Whilst they may not be starters for the Wallabies I think they will be useful bench boys.
    – Scrum half is a 50/50. My preference is truly Moses Sorovi. A strong scrummy, but is also a great defencder on the line, and very quick on his feet. Especially over the first 20 yards.
    – Flyhalf is where the challenge will be. I dont think Hamish stewart is anywhere near where he needs to be. A lot of potential, but a lot of serious development still to go. He can kick in hand, but doesnt use it much. Hos place kicking struggled. Hence the worlds best kicking coach.
    – Reasonably strong centres and back line combo here.

    Overall it will be about how they have built up their S&C, and how much new coaching set up structures the play.

    In parts I like the Thorn culture drive. But the way he handled the exit of the players was appalling. I have sacrificed 15 years of membership and being a corporate sponsor of the Reds over it. I understand his intent, but the method of execution was, ham fisted, zealot driven, and to be brutally honest, shit. Not once did he ever stand up and say direcly to the players, or to the club, or to the media, or most importantly to the members who are the back bone of the club and help finance it, this is what I am doing and why. It has cost the Reds significantly. I for one will be supporting the Rebels this year.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Happy “Straya” day to you mate. Fuck the PC zealots they can get stuffed!

      I agree with you on Sorovi. I like his speed of delivery and I think if he gets it together this year he’ll be a real asset. I think Stewart will benefit from this but I agree he needs to develop mere in his decision making. His passing is good but he tends to play too structured and needs to play more to “what’s in front of him”.

      I hope Kerevi is injury free this year as I still think he’s the best 12 in Australia.

      I think they’ll struggle in the first 3 games and I hope the BT culture comes through but to be fair I’m holding off on too much praise until I see them play. I definitely think they could surprise some teams and if more consistent this year they should do well.

      • Brisneyland Local

        Yep agree. I think Sorovi could be the back up to Genia in time.

    • laurence king

      Well, at least they’re not the Waratahs, (my team). I think the Reds will turn out to be a strong team this year, but I feel the same about the Brumbies and the Rebels. It may have been ham-fisted in the way Thorn got rid of those players, but no one will be in any doubt about the type of behaviour that is required to pull on a Reds jumper. In the long run that could well keep some of these young players from wrecking their careers and lives.

      • Brisneyland Local

        dont get me worng. I think the stance he took was right. But the way he did it almost bankrupted the Reds, and lost them about 50% of their fans.

    • Brumby Runner

      BL, there are a couple of standouts for Wallaby selection in Lukhan (nickname Furlough? LSL), Tupou and Rodda. The Brumbies will supply the core in Sio, Alaalatoa, Pocock and Faingaa.

      I do think they will be the two strongest packs in the Aussie conference and will shake up the competition across the conferences.

      • Brisneyland Local

        BR concur. I see a lot of good packs developing between Reds and Brumbies. Back row Brumbies, 9 & 10 Def Rebs. Samu def 12. Maybe some more Rebs up the back. I am hopeful that this will be the case, and a Strong SR season to consolidate it. Lets hope Cheika under Johnson will be shaped that way to pick the best players rather than his favourites.

        • Brumby Runner

          Good thought on Johnson and Cheika BL, but I remain very pessimistic on the selections front. I think Cheika will continue to get his own way all the way to a dismal RWC.

        • Brisneyland Local

          Look to be 100% honest, i think it will happen exactly as you describe. But I am hoping if blatantly obvious SR form is over looked there will be a total right. Johnson will stipulate, and then Cheika will protest like a bastard and look like an idtrio.
          I genuinely believe there will be open warfare within 2 months.
          But the optimistic part of me hopes the Ass Clown (Cheika) might still be able to learn.

        • Brumby Runner

          The problem as I see it, BL, is that there are no test matches until the RC this year. At what stage will Johnson really be able to curtail Cheika before it will be too late?

        • Brisneyland Local

          Very true. But I wouldnt be surprised if he starts to try and insert his influence now. So that when he arrives after he finishes in the Northern Hemisphere, it will be less of an impact. If we see the same old selections from Cheika after the SR season with favourites being picked on poor form, then I sure hoping there will be a heavy overide.

  • Huw Tindall

    Surprised Higgers seems to be taking a back seat in the above commentary. Thought a run at 6 with Timu 8 would be excellent.

    Overall though the lack of an established ‘spine’ at 8/9/10 will hurt the Reds. Despite the sh!t they cop I’d have Wells/Holloway, Phipps/Gordon, Foley. Played together for long enough to know their game inside out. They’ve done well behind an average pack too! Brums and Rebs will suffer similar probs with 8 and halves changing again although Rebels getting the QC and Sanchez band back together should prove interesting.

    Finally I think hegarty is a great buy. Had some sublime cameos for the Tahs last year but is tough when you are stuck behind Folau and Beale and Foley for a potential spot in the team. Him and JJH at the Brumbies I hope really come on.

  • AllyOz

    I think they’ll be improvers this year but still some concerns around the inside backs, primarily their inexperience and the lack of experience around them on the field- hopefully it can be addressed by the additions in the coaching staff. Might be a need to manage expectations. I’ll say third in Australian conference and tenth overall.

  • Gallagher

    My predictions are;
    – they do worse than last year, winning less and finishing dead last in Aus again
    – Stewart, still with no talent to train him on the ways of a 10 will still struggle, and with no backup the back line will continue to stutter
    – Naivalu’s career is ruined
    – Captain Kerevi leaves the Reds for the first deal he gets anywhere else
    – Thorn’s contract is extended again at years end as they can only go up
    – Quade helps develop Meakes, Ruru, Goddard and co into better rugby minded players by actually involving him on and off the field (sorry that’s Rebels!)

  • TOCC

    I’ve done the math, and the starting XV above is the same average age as the 2011 Championship Reds team, to me thats rather reassuring. Although experience in some of the key roles like the halves is slightly less then what the 2011 team had.

    ‘Young’ forwards like Rodda, Salakaia-Loto, Timu and Tupou are entering their 3rd season as starting SR players and now all with Test rugby exposure. Which complements the experience of older blokes like Higginbotham and the Smith twins nicely to provide a pretty experienced but youthful forward pack.

    It’s the depth behind the starting forwards which suffers, in the front row the Reds are short at LHP, with a young and unproven Harry Hooper been the next in line. Similarly at lock and backrow; Hockings, Blyth, Wright, Angus Scott-Young, McReight and Harry Wilson are all young kids with only a handful of caps between them. If a few injuries pop up, the Reds could be rolling out a forward pack which looks very similar to the QLD U20’s team from 2018.

    Depth in the backline looks better, with Toua, Hegarty, Feauai-Sautia and McGahan providing journeyman experience behind the starting XV. Once you examine the off-season ‘trades’ of Naivalu and Hegarty it actually makes more sense as to why they were recruited over others, Hegarty has 62 SR caps, whilst Sefa has 46 SR caps and 10 Wallabies caps. Both players bring experience and maturity to an otherwise young backline.

    Whilst on the subject of recruitment, the ‘superstar’ off-season recruits sit in the coaching department as far as I’m concerned and the Reds are now arguably armed with the best coaching staff in the country. Jim McKay, Peter Ryan and Dave Alred as the brains trust, a new S&C actually recruited by Thorn so suit his style, all incredibly important recruitment decisions and between them represent the 4 most important recruits for 2019.

    Look forward to seeing more,


  • John Tynan

    Dammit Ben, a whole off-season off the wagon, and one article wrecks the 12 steps, sucking me back in like a two bit junkie hooker….when’s the next fix?!?

Queensland Reds

Passionate about rugby from the grass roots up. Usually found at Brisbane club rugby games, or being involved in the junior and schools system. Love a chat, happy to admit when I'm wrong. I will watch any game of rugby regardless of who is playing, from juniors through to tests

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