Reds coach Nick Stiles described young hooker Alex Mafi as the most nervous player he had seen before a run-on debut, but feels his performance shows he can become a dominant Super Rugby figure for Queensland.
After coming on as a substitute in the Reds’ 43-10 defeat to the Brumbies last week, Mafi was given the No.2 shirt for the first time in the 47-34 victory over the Kings at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
Although just 20, Mafi’s Reds bow had been a long time coming after repeated shoulder injuries had kept him on the sidelines for much of the last three years – and the sense of occasion was not lost on the player.
“He was as nervous as I’ve seen in a guy starting, making his run on debut,” Stiles said.
“I thought he was great. He’s been in our program for three years, unfortunately he’s had a lot of shoulder reconstructions in that time.
“What we like about him is his athleticism and his footwork and he’s a footballer, he can read the game really well. The confidence he’ll take out of that is enormous.
“I’m giving a lot of minutes to the next crop of footballers. We had Alex start, Lukhan Tui start, Izaia Perese start, these names that will only get more dominant in Queensland rugby.”
Mafi was replaced by Andrew Ready at halftime but not before he had led the Reds to dominate the scrums, including a try-creating turnover in the sixth minute.
“I thought he dominated really well through his right side which is important for a hooker, to lock that side of the scrum down,” Stiles said.
“To get that tight head was a real confidence boost for the lads at the start because the reality is we’ve lost six games in a row.
“To come out and get a really rewarding turnover and a try on the back of it was great.
“It comes from hooker the scrummaging power. If he’s not doing a good job with his height it means you cant really be dominant.”