Thorn’s monster gamble, Quade’s replacement
WALLABIES duo Izack Rodda and Eto Nabuli have been boldly swung into the Queensland Reds' opening Super Rugby clash without playing a minute between them in pre-season trials.
Lock Rodda is the surprise starter for the visit to Melbourne to play the remodelled Melbourne Rebels on Friday night in the first full-on derby of the new season.
Rodda was sidelined for the final five Tests of last year when the tough call was taken to undergo a shoulder reconstruction rather than play the Test against the All Blacks in Brisbane.
He was not flagged to be ready until next week on a conservative projection but the 21-year-old has ticked all the markers on his return-to-play schedule over the past four months.
He returned to full contact in training last week and his 119kg frame will add clout to the physical pack plans of coach Brad Thorn.
"It's obviously a positive for us to have Izack and Eto back in the mix," Thorn said.
"The medical staff have done a great job to get them back in time for our first match and the players themselves have worked hard to get themselves right for it."
Rodda's ball-carting beside Lukhan Tui, 21, creates the best young lock pairing in the country.
"It was pure joy and excitement, knowing I'd been given the all clear to play," Rodda said.
"It was a good feeling to get the shoulder working again and do some contact.
"I was a little hesitant at first but once I started it was all good."
"Thorny has done it all so it has been great to be able to pick his brain throughout the pre-season and add to my game."
Having one-Test Wallaby Nabuli available is ideal timing because the Reds have lost standout winger Izaia Perese (knee ligaments) for the opening five rounds.
Nabuli broke his wrist in pre-season training but has the all-clear now the bone damage has mended.
Thorn's big call was going with the experience of Jono Lance at flyhalf rather than teenager Hamish Stewart.
The pair may well duel for the No.10 jersey as the season progresses but Lance's composure as a seven-season Super Rugby regular will have been judged highly for a key opener.
Playing against the Rebels and coach Dave Wessels, the club and coach who released him after signing him from the Western Force will be a stimulating match-up.
Long-haired hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 22, will make his Reds and Super Rugby debut after impressing since Thorn signed him because of his showings for NSW Country last year.
On the bench, flanker Liam Wright, halfback Tate McDermott and winger Filipo Daugunu will make their debuts if given a run.
"There's a lot of excitement within the group to have finally reached this point in the season," Thorn said.
"Pre-season was a tough slog, but we were pleased with the work. Now it's time for the real thing."
Test halfback Will Genia is fit after back issues for his first Rebels appearance against his old club in a starting side that also blends six former Western Force players into the starting XV.
QUEENSLAND REDS V MELBOURNE REBELS
7.45pm (Melb time)/6.45pm (Qld time), Friday, AAMI Park Melbourne.
TV: Fox Sports (live)
Queensland Reds: 1. James Slipper, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa 3. Taniela Tupou 4. Izack Rodda5 Lukhan Tui 6. Caleb Timu 7. Adam Korczyk 8. Scott Higginbotham (c) 9. James Tuttle 10. Jono Lance 11. Eto Nabuli 12. Duncan Paia'aua 13. Samu Kerevi 14. Chris Feauai-Sautia 15. Aidan Toua Reserves: 16. Alex Mafi 17. JP Smith 18. Sef Fa'agase 19. Kane Douglas 20. Liam Wright 21. Tate McDermott 22. Hamish Stewart 23. Filipo Daugunu
Melbourne Rebels: 1. Tetera Faulkner 2. Jordan Uelese 3. Jermaine Ainsley 4. Matt Philip 5. Adam Coleman (c) 6. Lopeti Timani 7. Angus Cottrell 8. Amanaki Mafi 9. Will Genia 10. Jack Debreczeni 11. Sefa Naivalu 12. Reece Hodge 13. Tom English 14. Jack Maddocks 15. Dane Haylett-Petty Reserves: 16. Anaru Rangi 17. Fereti Sa'aga 18. Sam Talakai 19. Sam Jeffries 20. Ross Haylett-Petty 21. Michael Ruru 22. Semisi Tupou 23. Billy Meakes