By Michael Atkinson
Ahead of his 15th Super Rugby season, you could forgive Stephen Moore for taking an easier option. The Wallabies captain has made 164 appearances since making his debut for the Reds in 2003, but is yet to win a Super Rugby title.
Some would suggest he's moved home to Queensland to break that drought. But for Moore, the lure of returning to Brisbane to help mould the next crop of rugby talent was far greater than the chance to clinch an elusive trophy.
“The opportunity, having played rugby for a long time, to go to a team and have an influence and an impact and perhaps share some of the stuff that I’ve learned in my career and help some of the younger players to realise their potential (was a reason for coming back to Queensland)” said Moore.
“Also, a really important part is to improve as a player, and that’s something I’ve learned a lot already from someone like Brad Thorn.”
It’s a welcome sentiment from a player who’s recruitment, because of his age, has had rugby pundits questioning if it’s the right move for the future. Together with Moore (34), Queensland has welcomed back Quade Cooper (28), Scott Higginbotham (30), and Leroy Houston (30), along with having secured the signature of 36-year-old George Smith.
But these recruitments have an eye to the future as much as they do to returning Queensland’s win-loss record back to the black this season.
And in Tuesday's 32-13 trial game win over the Melbourne Rebels, they looked to already be paying dividends.
Not only did all the veterans produce impressive performances – Cooper in particular – but when they were replaced by their younger counterparts, the Reds didn’t skip a beat.
“A lot of the boys who’ve trained the full preseason, who probably haven’t played a lot of Super Rugby, really did well and that’s a pleasing sign” Moore said.
“Super Rugby is a very tough competition and you need a lot of depth in your squad and I think it was nice to see some of the boys come on and have a good impact there.”
Impact is the right word to describe the performances of Moore’s replacement, Andrew Ready, as well as starting No.7, Adam Korczyk, and winger Kris Kuridrani, who came on with 25 minutes to go and scored with his first touch.
“We’re going to need that right throughout the season” Moore said meaningfully.
The Reds are also looking to add a second playmaker to their backline to relieve pressure from Cooper at No.10.
Duncan Paia’aua played that role in the No.12 jersey on Tuesday, giving the Reds attacking options aplenty. Paia’aua played a major hand in two of the Red’s four tries, throwing the last pass for Eto Nabuli’s first half five-pointer and Kuridrani’s sublime counter-attack try.
“Having that ball distributor at 12 gives that bit of extra width in your game and having a really strong, powerful runner in Samu (Kerevi) outside of him is exciting” said head coach Nick Stiles.
“It also takes a bit of pressure off Quade that he doesn’t have to be the man.”
If Quade doesn’t always have to be ‘The Man’, than perhaps he can once again become the man who led Queensland to their sole Super Rugby title in 2011; not that Moore and co are thinking that far ahead.
“We’re not getting carried away, it’s early days” said Moore. “We’ll go away now and work hard. We’ve got 10 days, roughly, until the Sharks and we’re gunna need all that time to get ready.”
The players and coach aren’t getting carried away, and rightfully so, after all, championships aren’t won in February.
But the return of some of Queensland’s favourite players, the potential of the current stock and Tuesday night’s performance will mean the Reds can expect a healthy crowd for round one at Suncorp Stadium on February 24.