Rivalry is fierce for Reds berths
QUEENSLAND Red Ben Daley expects fierce competition for his loosehead prop spot ahead of his side’s season-opening trial against the NSW Waratahs at Lismore’s Oakes Oval on January 23.
Daley, the son of former Australian rugby league player Phil Daley, announced his arrival on the big stage with a stellar performance in his run-on debut for Queensland in the Reds’ gutsy 25-13 win over the Sharks in the 2009 Super 14 season.
An impeccable performance earned the Tweed Daily News columnist a further five starting caps by year’s end, and he will be doing everything in his power to retain his spot.
However he faces stiff opposition from former Wallaby Greg Holmes who is keen to get back to the top of Australian rugby union after missing much of the 2009 season with a neck/shoulder injury.
Hence Daley isn’t getting too carried away, as each training session is a reminder that nothing is guaranteed.
“We’re all starting at the same point and the slate is wiped clean, so all you can do is train to your maximum performance and then it all comes down to how you perform in games,” he said.
“Everyone’s had a taste of Super 14, some more than others, but once you have that taste you want to have more of it.
“That’s a big driving force behind everyone’s motivations.
“The players have been told whoever is performing the best will get the nod, and everyone is looking forward to that first trial game against the Waratahs in Lismore to stake their claim for the opening Super 14 clash.”
The 21-year-old law student said the group was thriving under the guidance of former prop Ewen McKenzie, and periodic visits by “scrum doctor” Alec Evans, the former Wallaby assistant coach.
“We’re learning from both those blokes and we’ll be making sure we have a good platform for our backs,” he said.
“The scrum needs to be a weapon in today’s game, with the rule changes reverting to the full arm penalty. I’ve had a little bit to do with Alec at the Gold Coast Breakers.
“He’s old school and it suits me and I think it suits a lot of the other blokes.
“Old school is the way to go; you just get out there and make sure your technique is correct, but you really want to get over your opposition.”
A similar story is being played out on the other side of the scrum, with coach Ewen McKenzie expecting the competition for places in the Reds’ front row to bring out the best in 2009 Rookie of the Year Laurie Weeks.
While Weeks enters the season as the incumbent tighthead, the right to wear the No.3 jersey will be hotly contested by both Dayna Edwards and Jack Kennedy.
McKenzie believes the pressure being placed on Daley and Weeks by Holmes, Edwards and Kennedy, will help the young guns avoid “second year syndrome”, when debut year stars get brought back to earth with a thud.
“Second year syndrome is normally when you rest on your laurels,” McKenzie said.
“But the reality is there is a lot of competition around, so there’s a lot of guys with really good attitudes.
“The competition will hopefully bring out the best in them all.”
McKenzie, who has placed an emphasis on versatility and the ability for some props to scrummage on either side, said the front row group had responded well to bettering themselves during a tough preseason.
“These guys all have the ambition to be Wallabies,” he said.
“That has happened for Greg, where it hasn’t happened to some of the others, but that doesn’t mean the ambition isn’t the same.
“They have ambitions to do well for the Reds, but they also have ambitions to play for their country.
“In the spirit of that competition my job is to manage that and obviously help those that want to do the hard work get there.”
James Slipper and Albert Anae also add depth to the line-up.