Reds heading forward with youth
Reds heading forward with youthSHARE
No team has had as tumultuous an off-season as the Queensland Reds.
There have been more dramas at Ballymore than an episode of the Kardashians. The turnstile of head coaches continued with the appointment of Brad Thorn last year, ending the short stint of Nick Stiles, who ousted co-coach Matt O'Connor, both of whom replaced Richard Graham.
Thorn stamped his authority early, promptly telling scrumhalf Nic Frisby and beloved flyhalf Quade Cooper they won't be required for the upcoming season, creating a firestorm of media attention and fan backlash.
Things went from bad to worse when Karmichael Hunt became embroiled in his second off-field drugs scandal, and to top it off Wallaby legend George Smith was arrested in Japan.
After everything the fan base has been through the last few years, things couldn't get any worse.
Amid all the noise, what Thorn has done is draw the line in the sand. He has been the first coach to make proactive personnel moves seemingly against the decisions made by Reds recruitment manager Sam Cordingley.
With Cooper only one year into his three-year AU$800,000 per season contract, dropping him to club rugby is a lot of dead money for the cash-strapped Reds which shows Thorn is hell-bent on starting a new era.
A spate of high-profile, short-sighted signings have glossed over poor performance in recent years – Karmichael Hunt, James O'Connor, Ayumu Goromaru, Stephen Moore, George Smith, Leroy Houston and league converts like Lachlan Maranta have renewed hope but underwhelmed.
Each year they have banked on short-term (and often expensive) fixes, instead of taking a hit and building around young talent for the long-term. This is what is finally happening at the Reds – Thorn is preparing to re-build around his young charges.
He has regenerated the forward pack by upgrading a number of youth system players; Angus Blyth, Harry Hockings, Harry Hoopert, Angus Scott-Young and Liam Wright – most of whom played under Thorn in the Reds' Under-20 team.
Quade's replacement is 20-year-old flyhalf Hamish Stewart, who debuted last year. The 21-year-old James Tuttle looks to be the number one scrumhalf and the most experienced backs from last season, midfield pairing Duncan Paia'aua and captain Samu Kerevi are still only 23 and 24-years-old respectively.
The few signings they have made, are all ironically former players that were unwanted or squeezed out at some stage. Jono Lance, Ben Lucas and Aidan Toua aren't splash recruits, but will bring valuable experience and key positional depth to the side at flyhalf and fullback to cover for the loss of Cooper and Hunt.
The Reds nursery is one of the best in Australia – they run talent at a surplus but often export the best of it to other teams – see David Pocock, Sean McMahon and a young James O'Connor (pre-braids and cornrows). Eventually, the system will re-produce quality Super Rugby starters.
With less focus on high-profile recruiting and more on retaining talent, a Reds turnaround shouldn't take too long, just don't expect too much this year. Although with just four, three and four wins in the last three seasons 2018 could still be an improvement.
Australian Conference Placing: Fourth
Player of the Year: Samu Kerevi
Rookie of the Year: Angus Blyth
Breakout Player: Duncan Paia'aua
Best Signing: Ben Lucas
Super Rugby Placing: Thirteenth
Best finish: Champions in 2011
Worst finish: Fifteenth in 2016
In: Angus Blyth (Bond University), Filipo Daugunu (Queensland Country), Harry Hockings (University of Queensland), Harry Hoopert (Brothers Old Boys), Tate McDermott (Queensland Country), Brandon Paenga-Amosa (NSW Country Eagles), Angus Scott-Young (Queensland Country), JP Smith (Brumbies), Liam Wright (Queensland Country), Ben Lucas (Verbitz), Jono Lance (Worcester Warriors), Aidan Toua (Brumbies).
Out: Leroy Houston (Bordeaux), Phil Kite (Vannes), Chris Kuridrani (Brisbane City), Campbell Magnay (Sungoliath), Jake McIntyre (Agen), Stephen Moore (retired), Caderyn Neville (Toyota Industries Shuttles), Jayden Ngamanu (Brisbane City), Rob Simmons (Waratahs), Kirwan Sanday (Queensland Country), Henry Taefu (Colomiers), Sam Takakai (Rebels), Hendrik Tui (Sungoliath), Quade Cooper (released), Nick Frisby (released).
Squad: Angus Blyth, Filipo Daugunu, Kane Douglas, Sef Fa'agase, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Michael Gunn, Reece Hewat, Scott Higginbotham, Harry Hockings, Harry Hoopert, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, Adam Korczyk, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, Alex Mafi, Lachlan Maranta, Tate McDermott, Eto Nabuli, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Duncan Paia'aua, Izaia Perese, Andrew Ready, Izack Rodda, Angus Scott-Young, James Slipper, George Smith, Jean-Pierre Smith, Moses Sorovi, Hamish Stewart, Caleb Timu, Aidan Toua, Lukhan Tui, Taniela Tupou, James Tuttle, Markus Vanzati, Liam Wright.
* Don't miss the rest of the Australian conference this week.