The 2013 preseason has commenced for the St.George Queensland Reds and those that are fit enough are out on the field and slogging away with the hope of contributing to success in August next year.
Preseason takes a building block approach where many smaller areas are developed with a view that the sum of these parts will give us significant improvement when it matters most.
History suggests that to get the job done in Super Rugby at least 35 players will need to contribute on matchday throughout the season, which is the exact number we have under contract and includes at least two players in each position in effect, plus an extra prop, hooker and halfback.
If injuries were kind then there would be no need to dig deeper for playing resources but unfortunately it’s the depth of injuries and not the volume that can give you the trouble. We experienced this in 2012 when we were forced to use our sixth option at flyhalf, something that is extremely difficult to cater for unless you have South African squad sizes of over 50 players. But that’s a topic for another day.
It’s therefore critical that the Reds have access to a strong pool of players beneath our contracted squad who are ready to play for us tomorrow. This essentially means that they have the necessary preparation and knowledge to “pinch hit” for a few games when injuries invariably hit.
Queensland Rugby has a unique model and we see great advantage in our case as we provide participation and talent pathways for the Reds and also the wider rugby community. Access to more talent will allow us to better manage our squad by not having players with injuries on the field and it also obviously promotes new and interesting players who may not have had an opportunity otherwise.
We all know the Beau Robinson story well. He came to the Reds as a proven performer but it was an incredible effort to take the opportunity to progress from the Wider Training Squad to the Test arena in the space of six months.
So with this in mind, our newly introduced Reds College will have access to an extra group of players in 2013. Many will remember that there was a Reds College in the past although the new model will now form the crutch for the Reds on a day-to-day basis.
The Reds College will also run as an addition to our talented five-man Extended Playing Squad, which are one-year contracts for squad members 31-35 and allows players to also develop closely with the squad.
Recent successful graduates have been Nick Frisby and Albert Anae from 2012 while our 2013 group consists of returning EPS members Kevin Davis (hooker/prop) and UJ Seuteni (flyhalf/centre/fullback) and new members in Jarrad Butler (No.8), Blake Enever (lock) and Joel Faulkner (outside back). Of those, Jarrad and Blake have already received a small taste of Super Rugby after earning their debuts for Queensland late in season 2012.
The Reds College will consist of roughly 13 players and all will receive significant training exposure with the main playing group over the course of the year while giving themselves the greatest opportunity to represent Queensland in Super Rugby.
The Reds College provides an opportunity to train alongside Wallabies and replicate Super Rugby game intensity and speed. The types of players here are slightly more experienced and/or are developing at a rapid rate. They have all proven their worth in some way to convince the Reds coaching group that they can play for the Reds tomorrow.
They will also complete specific training programs created to their individual needs to allow each player the opportunity to participate with the Reds as much as possible while also still being permitted to conduct the other necessary pieces in their life.
Our inaugural Reds College has now been finalised and will consist of backrowers Curtis Browning (University), Nigel Ah Wong (Sunnybank) and Matt Blain (GPS); locks Ed O’Donoghue and Tom Murday (Sunnybank); prop Sam Denny (Souths); hooker Shota Horie; outside backs Lachlan Creighton (Brothers), Simon Morahan (University) and Danny Routledge (Sunnybank); scrumhalf Ben Meehan; flyhalf Dion Taumata (Sunnybank); and, last but not least, centre Rex Tapuai (Sunnybank), brother of Ben.
We have chosen a mixture of experience and youth and it’s especially pleasing to see such a strong representation from the Queensland Premier Rugby competition with the vast majority of players integral to their respective clubs. It’s also notable that, as a result of the College, there will be more experienced players returning to a club competition that will invariably be strengthened and also some new faces.
There are numerous “good stories” within the group and you can bet lock Ed O’Donoghue will be determined to add to the 27 Queensland caps he earned between 2006 and 2008.
Another interesting name is Japanese Rugby World Cup Test hooker Shota Horie, who in 2012 represented Otago in New Zealand’s provincial competition, while Ben Meehan returns from a stint in Rugby League with the Melbourne Storm Under 20s to the code he played as a schoolboy, Rugby, where he represented Queensland at an Under 15, 16 and 18 level.
There will also be two Tapuai’s training at Ballymore, with Rex another member of our Reds College determined to make the most of the opportunity.
Australian Under 20 Player of the Year Curtis Browning has also elected to join the College after a stellar season with Queensland University last year.
So, we will have a fresh environment at the Reds for 2013. We have been building new facilities inside the former Queensland Rugby Club at Ballymore, including a new gymnasium staff and player facilities. This will be the exclusive domicile of the Reds and its College.
The combination of a new preparation base and environment, plus a larger group of experienced players, will arguably produce the biggest dividends for the group who are expected to reach the levels we require from them next year.
Can’t wait till February – bring on Super Rugby 2013!