Friday night will be my first Reds game for Super Rugby AU and I will be watching two teams of fighters who bring that combative passion to the game.
Queensland are of course hosting the Western Force, in their first trip back to our state since their exile from Super Rugby after the 2017 season.
For the football code that most prominently represents this country overseas to ditch fellow Aussies was the height of un-Australianess. However, as shameful an episode as that was, the fight by the Western Australians to keep their team was inspiring.
Before the team was cut and before their billionaire benefactor Andrew Forest committed to providing assistance, thousands of Force fans forked out $1000 each of their own money to buy shares in their club, with a hope of demonstrating financial viability.
When they were ultimately ejected, the Force still didn’t give up, keeping their team going for two seasons with the Global Rapid Rugby competition – and in many games drawing crowds to outstrip those of the Super Rugby teams.
If there is a team and supporters that deserves to be back, it is the Force and I am looking forward to a cracking match from them at Suncorp on Friday evening.
What’s more, I know the Reds will return in kind.
It has been a fascinating journey watching Brad Thorn build not just a team but a culture over the last couple of seasons, with all of the wild variations in form that we expect to see from an enthusiastic but developing team, through to the more consistent run of matches that we have seen since the near-miss against the Crusaders earlier this year.
Like the Force, the Reds have always been up for a fight, but prior to the Crusaders match, seemed to rely a bit too heavily on backing their fitness, to paraphrase captain Liam Wright.
Fitness is necessary for a winning team but is not enough on its own, with unrelenting mental focus and problem-solving skills necessary to win.
Thorn’s men came within four points against the Saders – the greatest rugby club in history – on the Kiwis’ turf, despite being rank outsiders. It really was a remarkable match. The key seemed to be that the Reds focussed and backed their brains, never giving up and working out ways forward when things didn’t go to plan.
Subsequently, they have had a couple of good wins – a beauty against the Bulls before the COVID shutdown, as well as the first victory in seven years against the old enemy, the Waratahs, just over a week ago.
Even in the draw against the Rebels last Friday, the Queenslanders came from behind, despite playing with 14 players for 20 minutes due to yellow cards.
Sparkling back play from James O’Connor and Chris Feauai-Sautia in the dying minutes before extra time led to a barnstorming try from hooker Alex Mafi, which could only have come from a team willing to put in every ounce of physical and mental effort.
The subsequent ten minutes of extra time, the first in Super Rugby AU, was a bit of a shambles from both teams, which we can put down to inexperience.
However, I am pretty sure that winning in extra time will be at the top of Brad Thorn’s list of issues to fix, so bring it on again!
All of this is why, despite the challenges that have been thrown up, so many love watching the Reds play. That they are marking the return of a respected foe on Friday night is special and I for one am looking forward to both teams demonstrating that respect for each other by taking chunks out of each other!
Go the Reds!