Wallabies prop James Slipper will attack the Super Rugby pre-season with extra hunger and confidence as the pain from missing Queensland’s grand final triumph still burns.
Slipper was Monday named as one of 10 current Test players included in a strong 30-man Reds squad to play their first 2012 trial against the Brumbies in Cairns.
The 22-year-old tight-head was the Queensland hard-luck story of an otherwise fairytale 2011 when he badly injured his ankle early in the final round win over the Chiefs.
It forced him out of the play-offs, including the thrilling 18-13 victory over the Crusaders in a memorable decider, and almost cost him a shot at the Rugby World Cup.
But after a strong end to last year, Slipper admits he’ll start the new season with plenty of fire in his belly.
“It’s still fresh in my mind, missing the finals,” he said on Monday.
“It was very disappointing on my behalf but in the end we won the premiership and I’ve got to be happy with that.
“This year I’m just hoping we can get there again so I can have a taste.”
Slipper made every post a winner in his late return for the Wallabies, starting the last three matches of 2011 after spending most of the World Cup on the bench.
Set to go head to head with Wallabies team-mate and good friend Ben Alexander in Saturday night’s trial against the Brumbies, the 21-Test front-rower believes he’s set a good platform for 2012.
“The World Cup (finishing third) was pretty disappointing but personally I felt like the more games I had the better I got,” he said.
“I really felt at home starting, particularly at the end of the year.
“I’m 10 times as fit as I was at this time last year – I’m heavier (118kg) and I’ve also trimmed down and I’m fresh so I’m really looking forward to the start of the season.”
Fellow prop Ben Daley will return from shoulder surgery in Cairns while backline trio Quade Cooper (knee), Anthony Faingaa (shoulder) and Rod Davies (hamstring) and veteran lock Van Humphries (elbow) are the only notable absentees.
While Mike Harris remains in prime position ahead of Ben Lucas to wear Cooper’s No.10 jersey, try-scoring speedster Luke Morahan is set to get first crack at fullback in the first of Queensland’s two trials.
Another back-three contender Aidan Toua did his underdog chances no harm by winning the Reds’ annual `King of the Gym’ strength competition on Monday, narrowly beating Digby Ioane with Scott Higginbotham third.