I reckon Saturday night’s Reds versus Crusaders blockbuster at Suncorp Stadium will be one of the most important showdowns Australian rugby has seen for decades...
Reds coach Brad Thorn took a massive gamble when he selected a second-string side for the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman opener against the Highlanders and the Queenslanders paid the penalty as they were outmuscled 40-19 in Dunedin.
It was a humbling eye-opener for the newly crowned Australian champions after their scintillating extra-time Super Rugby AUS final victory over the Brumbies in front of a huge Suncorp Stadium crowd two weeks earlier.
It was also a setback for Rugby Australia officials who were hoping that the success of the Reds so far this season would lead to an upswing in support for the game nationally. Perhaps Thorn was hoping the momentum from that heart-stopping final win would be enough to keep his patched-up side competitive against the Highlanders who won only three of their eight matches, or maybe he knew his top players were simply too battered to play on consecutive weekends and wanted them fresh against the newly crowned Kiwi champion Crusaders.
Either way, that’s ancient history now and on Saturday the Reds will be fielding their strongest possible combination, with the likes of dynamic halfback Tate McDermott and forwards Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson all back in the run-on side. Adding much-need strike power out wide, hard-running centre Hunter Paisami will be making his long-awaited return from injury.
The chance to see the Reds at full-strength against the best Kiwi side will be a huge boost for Australian rugby, with the whitewash of all five Aussie teams in round one of the Trans-Tasman competition bordering on the embarrassing. It certainly gave Kiwi supporters plenty of ammunition for their claims that the standard of Super Rugby AU was just a shadow of their version on the other side of the ditch.
Former Crusader Brad Thorn, who was a vocal advocate for the two competitions to come together, will be smarting from last week’s loss and will be determined for his side to show what they are capable of. With plenty of vocal Kiwi supporters in what is expected to be another bumper crowd I reckon the first Trans-Tasman rugby ‘Super bowl’ will be an absolute belter.
What do YOU reckon?
Yes: The Reds back at full-strength in front of a huge home crowd will be a different animal to the pussycats that went down the Highlanders. They’ll give the cocky Crusaders a real shock.
No: New Zealand rugby is a class above anything Australia can dish up. The Crusaders could play the Reds and Brumbies on the same night and win by 60-plus. By fulltime Brad Thorn will be wishing he never moved back to Brisbane.