Queensland captain Liam Wright remains a key part of the Reds’ Super Rugby AU grand final plans despite being dumped to the bench for Saturday night’s decider at Suncorp Stadium.
Wallabies flanker Wright has missed most of the season with an ankle injury, but was a starter in Queensland’s most recent match, a 30-27 loss to Western Force in Perth two weeks ago.
It was the Reds’ only loss this season, with Wright a casualty of the defeat.
Reds coach Brad Thorn has reinstated Ryan Smith in Queensland’s pack and shifted Angus Scott-Young from lock to his preferred flanker’s role.
Thorn on Thursday defended his decision to relegate Wright and also explained why he left prized recruit Suliasi Vunivalu out of his 23-man squad for the final against the Brumbies.
“Maybe it there were a few more games for Liam to get under his belt it changes things but that consistency of those guys getting the job done won out in the end,” Thorn said.
“Liam will be big for us in an important part of the game.
“It’s nice to start but … the game’s changed. The pressure moments are in the back 20, 30 minutes.
“Obviously he’d like to have a starting jersey on his back but he’s a great team man. That’s why he’s named as captain last year and this year.”
Wallabies flyhalf James O’Connor will captain the Reds in the final and retain the leadership role even if Wright enters the contest.
“You’ve got two leaders there, so they’ll work together,” Thorn said.
O’Connor’s backline won’t include NRL premiership-winning winger Vunivalu, who had been expected to return from a hamstring injury, at the very least via the bench, particularly given the Reds are without injured Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami (fractured cheekbone).
“Those high-octane athletes, you’ve got to be a bit careful with them,” Thorn said.
“He’s just not quite there yet. He could possibly do it but you don’t want to set a guy back.
“Sometimes you’ve got to do right by the player as well.
“You have those ones where (you say) ‘it’s a grand final, you play’ but I think with just the space it’s at, it’s probably a week or two too early.”
While Vunivalu has missed out, a relieved Jock Campbell will start on the wing after a groin injury prevented him playing against the Force.
“I was very nervous and I was just happy to see it when it (the team) got announced,’’ Campbell said.
“There are some good players missing out and on the bench.”