In 1894, to reflect Queen Victoria’s robes, the Northern Union (now Queensland rugby union) wore the maroon strip for the first time. Now in 2019, Queensland league and union are united at least by colour again.
It is fitting and no surprise that this should be under head coach Brad Thorn, supported by his assistant, defence coach Peter Ryan. Both Thorn and Ryan are ex-maroon State of Origin players and dual NRL and Super Rugby Champions.
They get it. The never say die Maroons attitude and team comes first attitude.
This attitude was ingrained into them by the successful title-laden dynasty coach Wayne Bennett of the Brisbane Broncos. Thorn also experienced this mantra under title-laden Canterbury Crusaders dynastic coach Robbie Deans.
In Robbie Dean’s biography Black Red Gold, Thorn compared Bennett and Deans.
“Both are very competitive men, Thorn says, but stress doing the simple things well.
“They don’t over complicate the game, but empower their leaders and are always looking for anything – and sometimes the ideas come totally out left field – which will give their team the edge.”
For instance, as a recent convert from league, to assist Thorn’s line out technique, Deans “had Thorn’s 113-kilogram frame perched on a fence post, catching shoes being lobbed at him by the coach” (pg. 195).
Another left field idea, Deans would take a new recruit for a boat ride. Then, unexpectedly right before the river split into two paths, Deans would hand the helm of the boat over to the recruit.
Not knowing which path to take, the recruit would ask, which way to go? Deans wouldn’t answer. The recruit needed to make a decision. Hopefully the right one. Deans noted his boat never crashed.
Later, when the Crusaders lost a match due to poor decision making, Deans would say something along the lines of, ‘it doesn’t matter how expensive the boat you have, or how hard you run it, it comes back to decisions you make at the helm’.
The players got it. Hopefully, the Reds will too.
By all accounts, there is a new humility to the Reds. The 2019 Reds want to learn – they are hungry.
Just like the Maroons and Crusaders, there is a wealth of coaching experience backing them up.
Before Thorn, Ryan was the only man to win an NRL title (Broncos), and a Super Rugby Championship (Brumbies). Brad Thorn noted on Redsrugby.com that, when appointing Ryan as his assistant defence coach, “He was a tough operator as a player, and I know he will bring that attitude and hard edge as a defence coach here at the Queensland Reds.”
For attack, the Reds have brought back their 2011 Championship attack coach Jim McKay, as well as strength and conditioner Brynley Abad.
Jim McKay, the former Wallabies attack coach is a student of the game.
He even completed a Masters Degree on ‘The Role of Unstructured Practice in Elite Rugby.’
For scrums and physiotherapy, there is Cameron Lillicrap, former World Cup-winning player in 1999 and former Wallaby scrum coach at the 1999 World Cup.
Next is a welcome surprise to Reds fans, David Alred was Johnny Wilkinson’s former kicking coach and is now the kicking coach of the Queensland Reds.
This type of initiative is just plain smart on the part of Reds management.
As interviewed on rugby.com.au, Alred hopes to “Gain some additional yardage (for the Reds)… (and) create a kicking game that actually puts the back three under pressure, instead of just giving them the ball and taking it from there.
“If you like I’m trying to put the attack back in the defensive kick.”
The Reds seemingly have got their act together. CEO David Hanham has been kicking goals as interim CEO and has now been confirmed his position has been made permanent.
The coaching staff is first rate. So, we come to the players.
Do the Reds have the cattle to make a real go of it in 2019?
The simple reality is, it comes down to the players. Whether they put the hard yards in and have the fire in the belly to show up, rip in, take charge on the field and learn what it takes to win.
Until a few games are played, it is difficult to get a full lay of the land. Currently, the bookies have them as $51 odds to take the title.
My bet? They will unleash like Phar Lap out of the gates.
The Reds have recently secured the services of NSW flyhalf-fullback Bryce Hegarty – who hails from Ashgrove – and Wallaby flyer Sefa Naivalu, who ran a 10.5 for a 100m back in 2011.
Slowly the pieces are coming together. To the Reds squad, remember the words of a former Maroon from yesteryear;
“If you do find yourself up against a supposedly superior opponent, and you will, don’t lose through fear of failure.
“Instead, stand tall. Work harder and smarter. Fight tough as nails.
“Put up a wall the opposition must climb over. Make them earn any victory over you. Make them sweat. The higher the pressure, the calmer and more aggressive we become.”
Do that and the maroon colour will slowly and surely become a dominant force in Super Rugby.
Good luck in 2019. The future looks bright once again in Queensland rugby.