Reds hope to be starting something with Slipper return

James Slipper is set to make an impact with the Reds tomorrow night. Photo: Getty Images.
James Slipper is set to make an impact with the Reds tomorrow night. Photo: Getty Images.

Will the long-awaited return of Wallabies prop James Slipper arrest Queensland's winless start to the 2016 Super Rugby season?

Reds players and coaches think it can, although the reigning champions, the Highlanders, await them at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night.

Slipper, who has been recovering from knee and shoulder surgery, has been named for his first run-on game this year, and to take over as skipper from second-rower Rob Simmons.

His first match of the season was as a replacement against the Waratahs in round five, which the Reds lost 15-13 loss.

Queensland interim co-coach Matt O'Connor said his side would be boosted by Slipper's experience, with the team yet to win a game this year.

The Highlanders, on the other hand, have dropped only their first game, to the Blues (33-31)

"It's good to be able to welcome James back to the starting side," O'Connor said. "He's worked very hard to get himself back on the field and was very pleased to get some minutes against the Waratahs (on March 27, before a bye last weekend).

"You want your most experienced players on the field and James will offer plenty of leadership on Saturday."

Powerful winger Chris Feauai-Sautia is the only other change to the Reds' starting XI, returning from illness to start on the right wing.

Ever since O'Connor and Nick Stiles took over as coaches from the sacked Richard Graham after a 22-6 loss to the Western Force in round two, the two have noticed gradual improvements in their team.

It has had two-point losses to 2014 champions the Waratahs and the Melbourne Rebels and drawn with the Blues.

"We have grown in our performances each week... (but) know it will take nothing short of our best to knock off the defending champions," O'Connor said. "The Highlanders are a dangerous team and we know we cannot afford to give them opportunities."

The Western Force has made two changes to the match-day 23 to take on the Crusaders at nib Stadium tonight.

In the only change to the starting XV, second-rower Steve Mafi returns to the run-on side for the first time since round two. Ross Haylett-Petty will have the week off after suffering a heavy knock to the head in the 32-20 loss to the Highlanders last Friday.

Francois van Wyk (wrist) will make his first appearance of the season after being named on the bench for the Force.

And despite being stretchered off against the Highlanders last week, Angus Cottrell has made a full recovery and will start at blindside flanker, in what will be his 50th outing for the Force.

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