Reds get reward for style
QUEENSLAND claim they are no longer Australian rugby's unpopular cousins, with interstate players lining up to play their exciting brand.
Reds coach Phil Mooney signalled the retention and recruitment tide had turned with Queensland's switch to an adventurous attacking game which has started to reap results in the Super 14.
It has transferred off the field with No.8 Leroy Houston re-signing yesterday and indications prop Greg Holmes will also follow with a new two-year deal in the next fortnight.
Holmes is one of five Test players Queensland has prioritised as their must-keeps with captain James Horwill, deputy Berrick Barnes, abrasive forward Hugh McMeniman and explosive back Digby Ioane.
While McMeniman and Ioane are set to entertain big foreign offers, Mooney said all five wanted to stay both to see the Reds rise up the ranks and feature in the 2011 World Cup for the Wallabies.
Queensland has consistently produced quality players but struggled to keep and attract Test stars as they have languished in the bottom three of the ladder dating back to 2004.
Mooney admitted there were many issues involved with their problems at the negotiating table but felt those issues were disappearing.
“The positive is we've always produced really good players, why players have left in the past is for a variety of reasons and I don't want to look back there,” he said.
“But all I do know is our program is very healthy and players are actually enquiring from other provinces about coming here so we're confident we've turned the tide there.”
Mooney declined to reveal names but said the interested players were from “all over Australia”.
Mooney yesterday ruled out appealing halfback Will Genia's three-match Super 14 suspension.
Genia was rubbed out for four weeks, including this weekend's bye, for his dangerous tackle on Sharks flanker Keegan Daniel.
The in-form Genia's unavailability until round 10 against the Lions means third-stringer Brendan McKibbin will be sized up for his Super 14 debut against the Chiefs on March 28.
Meanwhile, Wallabies centre Timana Tahu has been relegated to the bench and Test prop Al Baxter is set to break an appearance record for the NSW Waratahs in their match against the Crusaders on Saturday.
Tahu has been replaced at inside centre by Tom Carter, although Waratahs coach Chris Hickey suggested it was more a horses for courses situation than a question of form.
“We've tended to move between Timana and Tom depending on what we think suits the occasion and we think Tom might give us what we need against the Crusaders,” Hickey said.
In the only change to the starting side, Baxter returns from a calf muscle injury, with Dan Palmer dropping back to the bench.
Baxter will become the first front rower to tally 100 caps for NSW and will also surpass contemporary Matt Dunning as the most capped Waratahs prop.
“If last week was a final we probably would've played Al, but there is still a long way to go so we decided to give him time to recover,” Hickey said.