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'There is hatred': Reds, Tahs set to spring selection surprises at fullback for grudge match, Force lose trio

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20th February, 2024
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Max Jorgensen is the most exciting youngster in Australian rugby, but Waratahs coach Darren Coleman is set to ease his star fullback via the bench against the Queensland Reds in their important Super Rugby opener in Brisbane on Saturday.

The Roar can reveal Coleman will start the versatile Joey Walton in the position, as Jorgensen works his way back to full fitness after several injuries since bursting on the scene in his rookie season last year by scoring a brace of tries on debut.

He’s not the only selection surprise either, with new Reds coach Les Kiss to start Jordan Petaia over Jock Campbell at fullback despite some excellent pre-season form, The Roar understands.

It’s understood, too, that incumbent fly-half Tom Lynagh will be given first crack in the No.10 jersey for the Reds despite some strong pre-season form from teenager Harry McLaughlin-Phillips.

Waratahs hooker and Wallabies incumbent captain Dave Porecki will also miss the trip to Brisbane, as he makes his way back from an Achilles injury.

It might only be the first round of the competition, but there is plenty at stake as the traditional rivals of Australian rugby go toe-for-toe.

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Indeed, the Reds are out to make a positive start under former State of Origin and Kangaroos winger Les Kiss, who returned home after almost two decades abroad coaching in Ireland and England to replace fellow Queensland great Brad Thorn.

“It’s bloody tough and it’s exciting, it’s rivalry at its best and is an occasion I live for,” said Kiss when asked about the rivalry earlier in the week.

“I know what they’re (Waratahs) are capable of and what it means to them, so we won’t take them for granted.”

Jock Campbell of the Reds istduring the round 14 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Queensland Reds and the Moana Pasifika at Suncorp Stadium on May 20, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Jock Campbell will likely come off the bench for Queensland, with Les Kiss set to start Tom Lynagh at fly-half and Jordan Petaia at fullback. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

His counterpart, Coleman, enters the match with the clock ticking on his future.

The NSW Rugby board, who pulled the pin on new Crusaders coach Rob Penney after just five rounds in his second season in charge in 2021, want to decide on Coleman’s future by the end of March and starting well by knocking over the Reds looks essential.

But pre-season form, where the Waratahs were well beaten by the Rebels and then failed to show up against the Reds in Roma in the first half, has left the men in blue scratching their heads as to what’s not clicking.

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Adding to the importance of a first-up win is that the Waratahs have one of the hardest draws, with Coleman’s side to take on the Brumbies and Crusaders twice in the opening ten weeks, as well as having to travel to Fiji to take on the Drua.

Despite the challenging road ahead, the Waratahs are set to unveil a team full of fire power, particularly in the backline, with Izaia Perese set to take on his former side and start alongside Test teammate Lalakai Foketi in the midfield.

“The good thing about trials is you can really try and work on the basics and not give away too much,” Perese said.

“Now that it’s round one, we’ve got a clean slate and we’re looking to showcase what we can bring.

“I think we’ll be able to go up there and do a job this weekend.

“Being a Queenslander and playing for the Tahs as well, I’m very fortunate to have played on both sides.

“It’s pretty funny, I know the feeling on both ends. I know how they’re going to be coming into the game and we’ve just got to match it.”

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Mark Nawaqanitawase is set to start on the wing for the Waratahs against the Reds, while Max Jorgensen will likely come off the bench. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

More surprising is the decision to bring Jorgensen, who was taken by Eddie Jones to the World Cup despite being injured, off the bench.

But speaking to the media on Tuesday, Perese said it was important to “manage” Jorgensen after leg and shoulder issues over the past ten months.

“Maxy been tracking along really well,” Perese said.

“He’s been ticking every box really well his return on Saturday was to get through the game, get a few lung burners in, a few runs and contacts in and survive that.

“Now we’re going into round one, we’re going to really carefully manage Maxy.

“He’s still very young and we want a long career out of Maxy boy.”

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Another fascinating match-up is set to be at the back of the scrum, with Harry Wilson calling out Langi Gleeson after losing out to the Waratahs No.8 for a position in the Wallabies last year.

“As a No.8 who wants to be playing for the Wallabies … he obviously leapfrogged me last year. That hurt,” Wilson said.

“That definitely is always extra motivation when you see somebody in the same position on the other team. You want to go after them. I want to prove a point to him but for the benefit of the team.

“The moment you put on the maroon jersey and they put on the blue jersey there is hatred.

“It is our first game of the year in a new era of Queensland rugby.

“It all begins now under (coach) Les Kiss’s leadership and we want to start well and get one up against the old foe.”

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Jeremy Williams of the Force reacts after the loss during the round 15 Super Rugby Pacific match between Western Force and Chiefs at HBF Park, on June 03, 2023, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

Jeremy Williams will miss the Force’s opener due to concussion. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

In other news, the Western Force are set to be without their new captain Jeremy Williams for their season opener against the Hurricanes in Perth on Friday night.

Williams suffered a concussion against the Reds earlier this month.

The Force will also be without inside back Reesjan Pasitoa for up to three months, after the talented playmaker dislocated his elbow at training.

Reds recruit Harry Hoopert will also be out for up to four months with a knee-injury.

Week one teams are slated to be announced at 2pm AEDT.

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