Queensland five-eighth Mike Harris says he’s thriving on the pressure of filling Quade Cooper’s shoes and is confident he can continue to help the Reds maintain their Super Rugby dominance.
Winger Dom Shipperley’s post-siren try clinched Queensland’s thrilling 25-21 victory over NSW on Saturday night, but it was the clean striking of Harris which kept the visitors in the match and positioned them for their miracle finish.
All eyes were on Harris and what change his presence at No.10 would make to the defending premiers.
The Reds might have missed the injured Cooper’s touch of individual brilliance at times against NSW, but already Harris is making his own mark.
Through the trials and round one he’s booted 30 goals from 31 attempts (including six from six against NSW) and by following his plan of not trying to be a Cooper clone, he provided the base Queensland needed to snap a nine-year hoodoo against the Waratahs in Sydney.
“I’ve always quite enjoyed pressure and that’s why I’ve goal-kicked from a young age,” Harris said.
“There’s always going to be pressure on a new team coming in, I didn’t read into outside influences and just listened to the guys that matter in the team.”
Harris also showed he’s prepared to run the ball and some promising incisions were only let down by the Reds’ rusty ball-handling.
Queensland coach Ewen McKenzie said Harris’ performance was no surprise, and described him as an intelligent footballer with the ability to take the team forward.
“I recruited him, so I recruited him for a purpose,” McKenzie said.
“What’s that now he’s kicked – 30 out of 31 kicks at goal? That’s a good stat, you’d take that anywhere in the world.
“He’s doing what we want … he understands our game.”
Although disappointed his team clocked off in the shadows of fulltime, NSW coach Michael Foley was pleased with the performances of man-of-the-match Sarel Pretorius at halfback and stand-in captain Daniel Halangahu at five-eighth.
With Berrick Barnes expected back from a groin injury to face Melbourne on Friday night, Foley now has a decision to make about whether to drop Halangahu back to the bench or keep him at No.10 and shift Barnes to inside centre.
Halangahu revealed post-match he was going to start the Reds match at five-eighth even before Barnes was ruled out, because the Wallabies’ playmaker’s groin was restricting his kicking game.
South African recruit Pretorius scored with 13 minutes to go to give NSW what looked like a match-winning lead, and Halangahu said the crafty No.9 was in for a big season.
“Sarel is incredible to play with, his speed around the field is something that lifts the rest of the team and I think he’s going to be crucial to us having that attacking spark … he’s an absolute live-wire,” he said.