Reds and Waratahs go head to head in Lismore

When Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie sends his charges out on Oakes Oval on Saturday night it will be the first time against his former side, the NSW Waratahs.

McKenzie coached the Waratahs from 2004-2008, when he was sacked and replaced by current coach Chris Hickey, who insists catching up with his predecessor won’t be at all weird.

McKenzie, too, claimed it would be all just business. He was only appointed to the Reds late last year.

“It’s been a fairly seamless transition. I’ve been well-accepted, well-supported and I’ve got no complaints,” McKenzie said. “I’ve made lots of transitions throughout my life. I went to school in Melbourne, then to Sydney to go to university and play rugby. I played and coached with the Brumbies, NSW, and then in Paris, plenty of different cultures, so the transition to Queensland hasn’t been too hard.” Reds prop Laurie Weekes is loving having McKenzie (a former World Cup-winning Wallabies prop) at the helm.

“It makes a massive difference, he really knows what he wants from the forwards, especially the front row,” Weekes said. “We need to be more physically dominant, and clear about what we want from each other around the field. A head coach has to look after everyone but as Ewen is an ex-tighthead prop he knows what you’re going through, and will pick you up on this or that. He’s one of Australia’s best props, you’d be silly not to listen to him.”

The game will be played in four quarters, with both coaches looking to give their younger players a run. The Waratahs finished fifth last year and have been the consistent under-achievers of the competition since the Super 12 began in 1996, having never won and only making the finals four times. The Waratahs and the Reds will also meet in the first round of the Super 14.

“Regardless of previous results, this will be a very competitive and tough game,” Hickey said. “Historically NSW and Queensland have played each other over a long period of time, so it will be a really good test first up.

“I’m sure the Reds are also looking to put a marker down as to what their season’s all about as well. I think it will be exciting.”

The Reds have also had a number of lean years, finishing 13th last year and no better than 10th since 1994.

“I’m sick of saying we’re almost there. This team, over the pre-season, has been a lot more professional,” Weekes said. “This year I think we could turn some heads.

“Being young we have nothing to lose, it’s the start of our careers and we’ll just do our best.”

McKenzie said he didn’t really think there was a Queensland-type style any more.

“Style is usually borne out of quality and the players you’ve got, it changes over time,” he said. “You have to be pragmatic and do an assessment on of who you have on board at the time and you might change style a little bit. You have to be honest about what you’re good at. A lot depends on your level of optimism and confidence.

“I firmly believe we can get it back on track, I wouldn’t have signed on otherwise. There are a lot of things that don’t happen overnight, you have to work diligently and consistently.

“There’s not always much between winning and losing, it can get down to tactics, one tackle or even the refereeing. Once you turn a corner, you add confidence.”

The game kicks off at 7.40pm, with gates open from 4pm and the FNC vs Gold Coast Breakers A opener from 5.15pm. Tickets prices start at $8 concession, up to $45 for a family.

Lismore residents can take advantage of a free ride home thanks to Lismore City Council.

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