The Defending Super Rugby champions the Queensland Reds have a very strong and settled line-up for next season.
Wed 9 Nov 2011
However, it will be interesting to see how they cope without mercurial playmaker Quade Cooper.
The Wallabies pivot had worn the No 10 jersey for 31 consecutive games and was a key figure in the Ewen McKenzie-coached side’s charge to the championship in 2011.
He will miss the first six weeks of the competition after injuring his knee during Australia’s Rugby World Cup bronze final victory against Wales.
Mike Harris, Ben Lucas and Ben Tapuai are the men vying to replace Cooper in the No 10 jersey.
Overall, the Reds have a Wallaby-laden squad that has the potential to once again make the playoffs.
McKenzie has remained true to the young side that has served him so well in his two years at the helm, with 27 of the 30-man squad having featured in 2011.
The two newbies are lock David McDuling and 17-year-old wing Chris Feauai-Sautia, while Aidan Toua gets a full contract after playing two games last season.
Those gone from 2011 are Albert Anae (he is in the extended playing squad), Will Chambers (Munster), Leroy Houston (Bordeaux-Bègles), Kimami Sitauti and Ian Prior (both Brumbies) and Lei Tomiki (Stade Français).
The Waratahs, meanwhile, will have a new coach and some new blood.
However, the Sydneysiders will still have plenty of international players on their roster.
Former Wallaby front-rower Michael Foley has been promoted from assistant coach, replacing Chris Hickey as head mentor.
Foley has been forced to bring in some new blood, with a number of ‘Tahs regulars in recent seasons having moved on.
The most high profile acquisitions are Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper and Rocky Elsom who both join from the Brumbies, and livewire Cheetahs halfback Sarel Pretorius.
The other new faces are former Australian Sevens skipper Bernard Foley, Greg Peterson and Chris Alcock, who returns after not being wanted last season.
The biggest losses are Wallabies fullback Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels), flanker Phil Waugh and prop Al Baxter (both retired) and halfback Luke Burgess (Toulouse).
The others missing from the class of 2011 are former All Black Sosene Anesi (Japan), ex-Wallaby Ryan Cross, halfback Josh Holmes, loose forwards Locky McCaffrey (Force) and Ben Mowen (Brumbies) and lock Pat O’Connor.
Still, there are plenty of current or former internationals in the mix, with Berrick Barnes, Ashley-Cooper, Elsom, Rob Horne, Sekope Kepu, Drew Mitchell, Dean Mumm, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Sitaleki Timani, Lachie Turner and Dan Vickerman having worn the green and gold of the Wallabies in recent times.
Second-year Western Force Richard Graham reckons he has his team will be a, er, force to be reckoned with next season.
Despite the loss of Wallaby utility back James O’Connor – the Perth-based franchise’s go-to man and main strike weapon this year – to the Melbourne Rebels and wing David Smith to Toulon, Graham feels he has selected the strongest squad in the club’s five-year history.
The Force have yet to make the playoffs, but Graham expects that to change in 2012.
“I’m obviously extremely confident (of improvement). I think we’ll get better results,” he says.
“Last year, we drew two games, we lost two games by one and lost another three by less than seven, so we’re not a long way away and we’ve just got to believe in what we’re doing.”
Graham feels the new additions will give him better depth.
The biggest names heading to Perth next season are Wallabies prop Salesi Ma’afu (Brumbies) and Fiji wing Napolioni Nalaga.
Other newbies on the books include former Blues midfielder Winston Stanley, former Chiefs lock Toby Lynn, Tetera Faulkner, Locky McCaffrey (Waratahs), Jordan Rapana, Ben Seymour and Will Tupou.
“There are not necessarily high profile players … but there’s no doubt at the moment we’ve got the strongest squad that we’ve had,” says Graham.
Gone from last year are Paul Alo-Emile (Rebels), Mark Bartholomeusz, Matt Dunning (Biarritz), Tim Fairbrother (Harlequins), Tom Hockings, Mitch Inman (Rebels), Jono Jenkins, Tevita Metuisela (Rebels extended training squad) and Mark Swanepoel (Canterbury).
A number of off-season departures means newBrumbies coach Jake White will have a new-look side, one desperate to erase the bitter memory of last year’s tumultuous campaign, when the campaign kicks off.
Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), Rocky Elsom (Waratahs), Mitchell Chapman (Japan), Mark Chisholm (Bayonne), Huia Edmonds (Saracens), Francis Fainifo (Stade Français), Matt Giteau (Toulon), Salesi Ma’afu (Force) Tyrone Smith (Japan), Julian Salvi (Leicester), Patrick Phibbs (Exeter) and Elvis Levi (Beziers) are gone following the 2011 campaign, which saw the Canberra-based side finish 13th.
Ed Stubbs, Josh Valentine, Samu Wara, Anthony Hegarty and Henry Vanderglass have also been released as White looks to stamp his mark.
Those new to the team are Ben Mowen (Waratahs), Leon Power (Bay of Plenty),Saliva Saliva (Western Force), Ian Prior (Reds), Fotu Auelua (NTT Shining Arcs), Kimami Sitauti (Reds) and leagueie Joseph Tomane (Gold Coast Titans).
As for the Melbourne Rebels, they will once again have a dangerous backline, especially with the arrival of Wallabies James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale from the Western Force and Waratahs respectively.
However, there are still doubts over the tight five and their ability to dominate at scrum and lineout time.
Still, much of last year’s squad which propped up the ladder in its debut season will be back next year giving new coach Damien Hill plenty to work with.
O’Connor and Beale will join the likes of Mark Gerrard, Cooper Vuna, Stirling Mortlock and Nick Phipps out wide.
The other new recruits are former Wallaby Lloyd Johansson Paul Alo-Emile and Mitch Inman (both from the Western Force) and former Blues lock James King.
Gone from last year are Greg Somerville, Kevin O’Neill and Sam Cordingley (all retired), Hoani MacDonald, Peter Betham and Afusipa Taumoepeau.
AUSTRALIAN 2012 SUPER RUGBY
Queensland Reds: Quade Cooper, Ben Daley, Rod Davies, Anthony Faingaa, Saia Faingaa, Will Genia, Liam Gill, James Hanson, Mike Harris, Scott Higginbotham, Greg Holmes, James Horwill, Van Humphries, Peter Hynes, Digby Ioane, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, David McDuling, Luke Morahan, Ed Quirk, Beau Robinson, Radike Samo, Jake Schatz, Guy Shepherdson, Dom Shipperley, Rob Simmons, Chris Feauai-Sautia, James Slipper, Ben Tapuai, Aidan Toua, Adam Wallace-Harrison
Extended playing squad: Albert Anae, Kevin Davis, Nick Frisby, Dallan Murphy, Ulupano Seuteni
Waratahs: Berrick Barnes, Chris Alcock, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Carter, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Rocky Elsom, Damien Fitzpatrick, Bernard Foley, Daniel Halangahu, Rob Horne, Brackin Karauria-Henry, Sekope Kepu, Tom Kingston, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbin, Drew Mitchell, Dean Mumm, Atieli Pakalani, Wycliff Palu, Greg Peterson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sarel Pretorius, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Sitaleki Timani, Lachie Turner, John Ulugia, Dan Vickerman.
Extended playing squad: Grayson Hart, Tevita Metuisela, Lotu Taukeiaho, Lopeti Timani, Nathan Trist
Western Force: Phoenix Battye, Richard Brown, Nathan Charles, Pek Cowan, Nick Cummins, Patrick Dellit, Gene Fairbanks, Tetera Faulkner, Matt Hodgson, Kieran Longbottom, Toby Lynn, Salesi Ma’afu, Alfie Mafi, Lachlan McCaffrey, Ben McCalman, Napolioni Nalaga, David Pocock, Jordan Rapana, Willie Ripia, Ben Seymour, Nathan Sharpe, Brett Sheehan, Cameron Shepherd, Rory Sidey, Winston Stanley, James Stannard, Will Tupou, Justin Turner, Ben Whittaker, Sam Wykes
Extended playing squad: Angus Cottrell, Kyle Godwin, Salesi Manu, Elvis Taione, Samu Wara
Brumbies: Ben Alexander, Ben Hand, Stephen Hoiles, Michael Hooper, Peter Kimlin, Christian Lealiifano, Pat McCabe, Stephen Moore, Dan Palmer, Andrew Smith, Henry Speight, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Ita Vaea, Jono Owen, Siliva Siliva, Ben Mowen, Sam Carter, Cam Crawford, Ian Prior, Joseph Tomane, Kimami Sitauti, Tevita Kuridrani, Zack Holmes, Tom Cox, Leon Power, Fotu Auelua, Robbie Coleman, Colby Faingaa
Extended playing squad: Dylan Sigg, Scott Fardy, Scott Sio, Ruaidhri Murphy, Jesse Mogg
Melbourne Rebels: Paul Alo-Emile, Kurtley Beale, Rodney Blake, Adam Byrnes, Alister Campbell, Tom Chamberlain, Danny Cipriani, Tim Davidson, Gareth Delve, Adam Freier, Mark Gerrard, Nic Henderson, James Hilgendorf, Julian Huxley, Mitch Inman, Lloyd Johansson, Luke Jones, James King, Richard Kingi, Michael Lipman, Lachlan Mitchell, Stirling Mortlock, James O’Connor, Nick Phipps, Hugh Pyle, Ged Robinson, Jarrod Saffy, Heath Tessmann, Cooper Vuna, Laurie Weeks
Extended playing squad: Eddie Aholelei, Luke Holmes, Isaiah Mosese, Cadeyrn Neville, Nick Stirzaker