REDS coach Brad Thorn has a pleasant selection headache looming in deciding whether Jordan Petaia, Chris Feauai-Sautia or Hunter Paisami misses out on a starting berth in Saturday week’s Super Rugby AU semi-final.
Feauai-Sautia and Paisami have made timely returns from respective calf and knee injuries for this Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash against the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium.
While it’s a dead rubber in that the Brumbies are certain to finish first and the Reds not being able to be dislodged from second spot regardless of the result, it looms very much as a selection trial for Queensland’s semi-final the following week against either the Waratahs or the Rebels.
With Josh Flook out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, excitement machine Petaia has been moved from the wing to outside centre.
The powerful Feauai-Sautia will return on the wing, while Paisami’s comeback will be via the bench.
“I had to look at it,” Thorn said.
“Jordy’s just a fantastic player. You feel happy seeing him at training and playing … but Chris Sautia, Hunter Paisami, there are some talented guys there and I’m sure they’ll be keen to contribute.”
It’s hard to see Wallabies sensation Petaia not starting in the finals, so it will most likely come down to a choice between Feauai-Sautia and Paisami.
Thorn said Paisami would get a chance in the second half on Saturday to stake his claim for a recall to the starting team but was adamant Queensland’s priority was to win the match, not give players game time to prepare for the finals.
“We don’t want to get too carried away around what’s happening next week because we respect our opponent,” he said.
“We see this still as an important game. We’re looking to try to win this game.
“We know that (Paisami) will get time. It could be 30 minutes, it could be 20 minutes, but it’ll be good to get him back out there.”
In the forwards, loosehead prop Harry Hoopert has forced his way into the starting side at the expense of Jack Straker, while front-rowers and brothers JP and Ruan Smith are on the bench.
JP returns from a neck injury, while Ruan is back with Reds after a short stint with the Melbourne Rebels.
“It’s great to see Ruan back at Ballymore,” Thorn said.
“He’s slotted straight back in here and the group has got around him. He brings good experience to our pack at the back end of the season.”
While Saturday’s match has been dubbed as a grand final preview by some, Thorn said the Reds would not fall into the trap of thinking that far ahead.
“It’ll be a tough battle on (Saturday night). It’s a game we want to win but then it’s a grand final the following weekend, the semi, because of you’re thinking about the week after, there’s a good chance you won’t be there,” the Reds coach said.
Reds team to pay Brumbies: Harry Hoopert, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou, Angus Blyth, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Liam Wright (c), Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Filipo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Jordan Petaia, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jock Campbell. Bench: Josh Nasser, JP Smith, Ruan Smith, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Angus Scott-Young, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Hunter Paisami.