REDS HANG ON WITH LUCK AND TENACITY
THE Queensland Reds used their get-out-of-jail-free card to take down the Melbourne Rebels but it was a try that wasn’t scored by new recruit Suliasi Vunivalu that almost proved the highlight of their Super Rugby AU win over the Melbourne Rebels.
The Reds only hit the lead in the 77th minute and had to sweat on a late penalty kick from Rebels captain Matt To’omua, who pushed his penalty attempt after fulltime to the left of the uprights to
watch his side go down 23-21.
All the Rebels points came from penalties in a match dominated by the whistle of referee Jordan Way, who blew 32 infringements.
The Rebels didn’t look like scoring a try all night, instead racking up their tally through seven penalty conversions, while the Reds scored two tries through hooker Alex Mafi.
But it was Vunivalu, who played just over 15 minutes, who almost stole the show with his first touch in Super Rugby, chasing down a kick that looked certain to roll over the dead ball line.
Rebels scrumhalf Joe Powell was able to toe the ball over the line a millisecond be
fore Vunivalu reached it but the flyer showed in limited time on field just what an asset he can be when the Reds are able to play running rugby.
The Reds overcame the loss of front-rower Feao Fotuaika to a controversial red card for contacting the head of Richard Hardwick when entering a ruck and captain James O’Connor was proud of how his men hung tight.
“Our game plan didn’t quite come off tonight, we were a bit sloppy and the ball didn’t stick to hand but credit to the guys,” he said.
“We were down to 14 men, we stuck tight, changed our play up and it came down to the wire.
“I feel for Matty because he was kicking really well tonight.”
To’omua was proud of his team despite the loss.
“We gave ourselves a shot and (if that kick was) a little bit to the right, we win that game,” he said.
After being stood down for the opening round following an off-field indiscretion, Vunivalu’s near try in the 70th minute provided a rare highlight in a dour match and showed he is determined to convert the style of play that saw him score 86 tries in 111 NRL matches for the Melbourne Storm to his new code.
The Reds’ constant crossfield kicks in the opening two rounds show they are keen to use Vunivalu and fellow flyers Filipo Daugunu and Jordan Petaia wherever possible.
REBELS NO PUSHOVERS
With all the attention on the defending Super Rugby AU premiers the ACT Brumbies and the Queensland Reds, the Rebels have flown under the radar and were not rated a chance.
But their ability to know their limitations and stick to a plan make them a danger.
QLD REDS 23 (A Mafi 2 tries; J O’Connor 2 con, 3 pen) d MELBOURNE REBELS 21 (M To’omua 6 pen, R Hodge pen) at Suncorp Stadium.
JOE Daniher will play but Brisbane’s other major off-season recruit, former Cat Nakia Cockatoo, will miss today’s first major practice match against Gold Coast Suns because of a hamstring injury.
The Lions play the Suns at Metricon Stadium this weekend and again in an AAMI Community Series game on Monday week in their only two pre-season hit-outs against AFL opposition.
Border restrictions forced the AFL to limit non-Melbourne teams to matches only against their local rivals.
Lions coach Chris Fagan intends to field strong teams in both matches, with former Essendon star Daniher to enjoy plenty of game time.
“We were looking at our training minutes the other day and our (internal) game minutes, and Joe was in the top two or three,” Fagan said.
“He’s the one bloke that’s new that we need to get a bit of connection with so he’ll play as much of the game as he can (on Saturday) and next week.”
However, Fagan is taking a cautious approach with 24-year-old Cockatoo, who hasn’t played an AFL match since Round 3 in 2018.
“He’s got a bit of a ‘hammy’ at the moment. We’re trying to recondition him so we’re not in any rush to get him out there playing,” Fagan said.
“We’ll bring him along slowly. When you get new players to your club you’ve got to learn a little bit about their bodies and what loads they can take.
“We’ve got a lot of good feedback on that over the last four or five weeks. He hasn’t played much footy for two years either.
“He’s in good shape at the moment, and running really well so he’ll be introduced back into skills this week, and whether he’s done enough work to be in line for selection in Round 1, only time will tell.”
Fagan was glad the Lions would finally have the chance to play against an AFL opponent after a host of internal trials and scrimmages.
“We’ve been playing ourselves for a couple of months so it’s good to give our game plan a bit of test out against opposition teams,” he said.
“It’s good for conditioning as well, getting that full four quarters.”
Fagan said Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale would play “the whole game” today.
“We’ll just make sure he gets plenty of spells on the bench. We won’t stick to the 75 rotations,” he said.
“By the end of the day, hopefully he’s played around 75 per cent, 80 per cent game time.”
Fagan said there was “pressure on for spots” ahead of the Lions’ Round 1 clash against the Sydney Swans on March 20 at the Gabba.