Test hookers, friends and former garbage men Folau Fainga’a and Brandon Paenga-Amosa look set to make their returns from injury as the Brumbies host the Queensland Reds in Saturday’s Super Rugby AU grand-final rematch.
Reds hooker Paenga-Amosa enjoyed a return to the Wallabies fold under Dave Rennie last year, two summers after his shock debut against Ireland.
A neck injury has kept him on the sidelines so far this season, but he appears set to share minutes with the in-form Alex Mafi in Canberra on Saturday.
Fainga’a (toe) should slot back in for the Brumbies to face Paenga-Amosa, who he worked with in Sydney as a bin man before the pair split for their new rugby homes, on the journey towards Test debuts.
The return of the 25-year-old Fainga’a is neat timing after his replacement Connal McInerney broke his fibula (calf bone) early in his side’s after-the-bell defeat of the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday.
McInerney’s season appears over, while the Brumbies will also be without Test props James Slipper (knee) for up to five weeks and Allan Alaalatoa (suspension) for three games.
Conversely, Reds coach Brad Thorn faces some tough calls on who to leave out, with Test talent Lukhan Salakaia-Loto free to play after serving his three-match suspension from the Argentina Test last December.
In Paenga-Amosa’s way is Mafi, who has been outstanding for the Reds’ in their two wins this season, while NRL convert Suliasi Vunivalu would have to replace an incumbent Wallaby to earn a start on the wing.
The Brumbies have won 18 of their last 19 games at home but Reds captain James O’Connor can sniff an opportunity.
“The Brumbies have been the best team in Australia for the last four, five years … but as the GOAT (Michael Jordan) would say ‘we took that (grand final loss) personally’ so we’re coming for them,” he said.
“They play a really structured game and they’ve mastered it so that if they lose one cog in the wheel it doesn’t disrupt them too much.
“But they do rely on Allan, on his emotional plays and hits … and for us that’s probably Lukhan; he’s a big leader in our squad and I get a lot of energy from him.”
The clash will also pit preferred Wallabies No.10 O’Connor with his heir-apparent Noah Lolesio, who has begun the season strongly after his first taste of Test rugby last year.
“I’ll be testing him out and I’m sure he’ll be testing me out with his young legs, but at the end of the day (it’s about) which team won,” O’Connor said.