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The St.George Queensland have announced a strong 22-man line-up for Friday night’s crucial contest against the Rebels in Melbourne where they will begin their three-game charge towards the FxPro Super Rugby finals (kickoff 7:40pm).
The Reds are back in action after a month-long break to the competition and currently sit just one point outside securing a wildcard finals berth and sixth place with three critical regular season games remaining against the Rebels, Highlanders and Waratahs.
Their journey begins on Friday night in Melbourne with scrumhalf Will Genia captaining a side which has made just two changes to their starting line-up from their most recent Super Rugby encounter against the Brumbies on May 26.
Both changes come in the forward pack with Adam Wallace-Harrison filling the void left by injured skipper James Horwill in the second row, while Jake Schatz will wear the number six jersey.
The backline remains unchanged with mercurial playmaker Quade Cooper ready to pull the strings from flyhalf after spending the June Test break at Ballymore preparing for Friday’s must-win contest.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has made a further two changes to his bench by recalling Fijian cult hero Radike Samo and playmaker Ben Lucas, who missed the Brumbies clash through injury before being called into the Wallabies extended train-on squad ahead of Tests against Scotland and Wales.
National Academy lock and Sunshine Coast product Blake Enever has joined the Reds following the injury to Horwill and will travel with the team as their 23rd man.
“We haven’t had the luxury of an extended preparation with our full group but the reality is we need to hit the ground running if we are to beat a motivated Rebels team and remain in the finals hunt,” McKenzie said.
“We took a lot of confidence from the results we were able to achieve before the break and our ability to maintain some continuity with team selections should help us get back into the groove of things on Friday.
“We’ve got a lot of talented players in our squad and we’ll be relying on their experience to help us pick up where we left off. There are only three games left in the regular season so the time is now for us to make our push up the ladder.”
To make the 2012 Super Rugby finals the Reds will need to replicate their earlier season successes against Australian Conference opponents with the Rebels on Friday night, and NSW Waratahs in the final round, still to come.
The Reds have excelled against their interstate rivals this season and have recorded five victories from six games to date, including a clean-sweep of the conference leading Brumbies which saw Queensland secure the Rod Macqueen Cup for the first time.
They will also be aiming to keep their unbeaten record against the Rebels intact after their 11-6 win in round three followed two triumphs in 2011.
The Reds returned to the training paddock on Monday after their Wallabies representatives came back from Sydney on Sunday morning while their Australian Under 20 representatives flew in later that night following a flight from South Africa.
“No one really knows what impact the midseason break will have on the Super Rugby teams just yet, but we’ve spent a lot of time and effort preparing to overcome the challenges associated with it,” McKenzie said.
“Training with near single-digit numbers over the past month hasn’t always been easy but there has been a noticeable lift and sense of excitement within the group since our international representatives returned.
“Everyone is looking forward to the return of Super Rugby and I feel we are in a good space. It’s now about going into Friday with the right attitude and setting ourselves up for the remainder of the year.”
After the Rebels, the Reds return to Suncorp Stadium where they will play the Highlanders on Friday 6 July. Tickets for the match can be purchased at www.ticketek.com.au.
St.George Queensland Reds team to play Melbourne Rebels
1. Greg Holmes
2. Saia Faingaa
3. James Slipper
4. Rob Simmons
5. Adam Wallace-Harrison (vc)
6. Jake Schatz
7. Liam Gill
8. Scott Higginbotham
9. Will Genia (c)
10. Quade Cooper
11. Digby Ioane
12. Mike Harris
13. Anthony Faingaa
14. Dom Shipperley
15. Luke Morahan
16. James Hanson
17. Ben Daley
18. Radike Samo
19. Beau Robinson
20. Ben Lucas
21. Chris F’Sautia
22. Nick Frisby
23rd man – Blake Enever
20 JUNE 2013
18 JUNE 2013
17 JUNE 2013