Two potential matchwinners are back for the Reds, but a Wallabies centre has been ruled out of the Queensland team.
The Queensland Reds have regained the services of electrifying duo Jordan Petaia and Suliasi Vunivalu but lost powerful Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami for Friday night’s Super Rugby Pacific clash against the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium.
Petaia and Vunivalu will return from hamstring injuries to play on the wings in a backline that was also set to include Paisami until he was ruled out after training on Wednesday with a shoulder injury.
Paisami’s misfortune meant a selection reprieve for Josh Flook, who had been dropped to the bench after starting on the wing in the Reds’ 27-25 loss to the Chiefs last Friday night.
Instead, Flook will start in the centres alongside Hamish Stewart in a Reds side desperate to avoid a third-straight defeat against New Zealand opposition.
There also three changes in Queensland’s starting forward pack, with Feao Fotuaika replacing injured prop Taniela Tupou (calf) and lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and flanker Seru Uru coming in respectively for Angus Blyth and Angus Scott-Young, who have both been relegated to the bench.
“(It’s) just the leadership that Lukhan brings,” Reds skipper Tate McDermott said.
“He’s a senior player in our group, and Seru’s just a pleasure to have out there. He’s another guy that can line break, off-load (and) do the whole deal.
“Having a guy like Angus Scott-Young come off the bench as well will be really good in the second half to bring that leadership as well.
“We’ll be under the pump for quite a bit of the game, but to have those guys out there to really relax the other guys … I’m really excited to see how we go.”
The Reds, who have struggled with their discipline, are intent on emulating the feats of the Brumbies, the NSW Waratahs and the Melbourne Rebels, who have all beat teams from the New Zealand section of the competition since the start of the crossover period last month.
“It’s good to see the Aussies doing well and getting the wins, particularly the Waratahs (against the Crusaders) – I don’t think I’d ever say that again,” passionate Queenslander McDermott said.
“We’re really frustrated with our results because we know we can do better.
“I don’t think there’s a mental barrier, but in saying that, we’ve got to prove that there isn’t a mental barrier as well.
“It’s more just that we’re coming up against better opposition, and we’re learning that if we keep 15 players on the field, we will win a game.”
Reds: Harry Hoopert, Richie Asiata, Feao Fotuaika, Ryan Smith, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Seru Uru, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott (c), Lawson Creighton, Jordan Petaia, Hamish Stewart, Josh Flook, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jock Campbell. Bench: Matt Faessler, Dane Zander, Albert Anae, Angus Blyth, Angus Scott-Young, Spencer Jeans, Filipo Daugunu, Mac Grealy.