Scott Higginbotham, coach Brad Thorn and Taniela Tupou of the Reds.
Scott Higginbotham, coach Brad Thorn and Taniela Tupou of the Reds.

The daring call that threatens to ruin Reds’ season

OUT with the old and in with the new.

The Queensland Reds have turned a new chapter to get back on track after being in free fall mode over the last five years.

Quade Cooper, the man who spearheaded the Reds' maiden Super Rugby title back in 2011, has been shown the door by new coach Brad Thorn.

His friend and Test teammate Karmichael Hunt could join him on the outer if Rugby Australia decided to tear up his contract for bringing the game into disrepute after pleading guilty to possession of alprazolam and to contravening a police direction after failing to attend a police station when required to give fingerprints.

It's a daring call from former dual code star Thorn, who has started his coaching career in the same way he played: short on words, high on action.

The Reds have an inexperienced squad this season.
The Reds have an inexperienced squad this season.

Publicly, Thorn has said very little about his side's chances this year, other than to say he'd have been "embarrassed" if he was a Reds player in 2017.

Privately, however, he has made it crystal clear what his expectations are in Super Rugby.

The Reds might not have the most talented roster, but they will be the most determined bunch going around.

Initially the road could be bumpy, but the rookie coach has backed his young charges to shine and be mainstays at the club in the long-term.

Here's our Super Rugby Spotlight on the Reds.

Scott Higginbotham will captain the Reds in 2018.
Scott Higginbotham will captain the Reds in 2018.

THE REDS SQUAD

Props: Sef Fa'agase, Harry Hoopert, James Slipper, JP Smith, Taniela Tupou, Markus Vanzati,

Hookers: Alex Mafi, Andrew Ready, Brandon Paenga-Amosa

Locks: Angus Blyth, Kane Douglas, Harry Hockings, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Tui,

Backrowers: Michael Gunn, Reece Hewat, Scott Higginbotham, Adam Korczyk, Angus Scott-Young, George Smith, Caleb Timu, Liam Wright

Scrumhalves: Tate McDermott, Moses Sorovi, James Tuttle

Fly halves: Hamish Stewart, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas

Centres: Samu Kerevi, Duncan Paia'aua

Outside backs: Chris Feauai-Sautia, Filipo Daugunu, Karmichael Hunt, Lachlan Maranta, Eto Nabuli, Izaia Perese, Aidan Toua

Quade Cooper has effectively been let go by the Reds.
Quade Cooper has effectively been let go by the Reds.

THE OFF-SEASON INS AND OUTS

IN: Harry Hoopert, JP Smith, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Angus Blyth, Harry Hockings, Angus Scott-Young, Liam Wright, Tate McDermott, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, Teti Tela, Filipo Daugunu, Aidan Toua

OUT: Phil Kite, Kirwan Sanday, Sam Talakai, Stephen Moore, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Simmons, Leroy Houston, Hendrik Tui, Nick Frisby, Jake McIntyre, Campbell Magnay, Henry Taefu, Chris Kuridrani, Jayden Ngamanu, Quade Cooper

THE BEST XV

Karmichael Hunt, Izaia Perese, Samu Kerevi, Duncan Paia'aua, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jono Lance, James Tuttle, Scott Higginbotham, George Smith, Caleb Timu, Lukhan Tui, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, James Slipper

WHY?

Until the late additions of Jono Lance, Ben Lucas and Aidan Toua, the Reds were razor thin in their playmaking stocks after bidding farewell to Quade Cooper.

Lance is locked in a battle to start at fly half with 19-year-old Hamish Stewart, who in tandem with Duncan Paia'aua led Queensland Country to a miraculous NRC title last year under Brad Thorn.

But Lance is likely to be given the nod to start at No 10, with Stewart eased off the bench.

And given Karmichael Hunt's recent run-in with the law, it's unlikely that the six-Test Wallaby will be used any time soon - if at all.

Bearing that in mind, Aidan Toua should start the season at fullback after two seasons down in Canberra with the Brumbies.

Izaia Perese's six-week injury could see Fijian flyer Filipo Daugunu start the season on the wing too.

George Smith's back injury should see Adam Korczyk start the season at openside flanker, while Kane Douglas is expected to partner Lukhan Tui at lock in the early rounds as young Wallaby Izack Rodda is still recovering from off-season surgery.Fox Sports Super Rugby Predictor

Under Brad Thorn, Queensland Country went from chumps to champs.
Under Brad Thorn, Queensland Country went from chumps to champs.

THE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

The Brad Thorn factor.

As a player he won it all.

Thorn was the benchmark for professionalism and those traits are already rubbing off on his players.

The Reds also have an exceptional, young forward pack and their set piece looks primed to return to its former glories.

And while James Tuttle, Hamish Stewart and Duncan Paia'aua aren't household names yet, they've had the benefit of playing an entire NRC campaign together and those combinations should translate.

THE REASONS FOR CONCERN

While the three names above are all promising prospects, their ability to provide points is the big concern.

Inside centre Paia'aua is the most adventurous of the trio.

He had a breakout Super Rugby season last year and improved further during the NRC after being handed the Country captaincy by Thorn.

But we've seen over the history of Super Rugby that the teams who can score big points - particularly striking off turnover ball and from long range - are the ones that more often than not win the competition.

At present, only Paia'aua and Samu Kerevi look like Reds gamebreakers in Quade Cooper's absence.

THE DRAW

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Rebels (away)

Round 3: Brumbies (home)

Round 4: Bulls (home)

Round 5: Jaguares (away)

Round 6: Stormers (away)

Round 7: Bye

Round 8: Brumbies (away)

Round 9: Waratahs (away)

Round 10: Chiefs (home)

Round 11: Lions (home)

Round 12: Bye

Round 13: Sunwolves (away)

Round 14: Hurricanes (away)

Round 15: Highlanders (home)

Round 16: Waratahs (home)

Round 17: Blues (home)

Round 18: Rebels (home)

Round 19: Sunwolves (home)

THE ODDS

To win the Australian conference: $6.50

To win the title: $51

PREDICTION:

Fourth in the Australian conference.

They will compete in most games, but an inability to turn pressure into points will hurt the Reds.



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