Rookie Queensland Reds coach Nick Stiles is ready to embrace heightened expectations after assembling arguably the best Super Rugby roster of any Australian side in years.
The Reds unveiled their 38-man squad for next season on Wednesday, capping off a frenzied recruitment drive with the signing of former fan favourite Scott Higginbotham.
The abrasive 30-year-old returns to Ballymore on a three-year deal that will commence when his duties with Japanese club NEC Green Rockets wrap up in early 2017.
It means the Reds could field a back-row of Higginbotham, Hendrik Tui and George Smith next year – and still have newly-minted Wallaby Leroy Houston and young gun Caleb Timu in reserve.
For Reds fans, the message from Stiles is clear – the rebuilding phase is officially over.
“I wouldn’t have put my hand up for this job if I wasn’t up for the pressure. I want to win,” said Stiles, who takes the top role after several years as an assistant.
“We want to create a culture here that is all about winning football games.
“We’re happy with the list we’ve got but the hard work’s got to happen now – how we bring an exciting group together will be a true test of where we end up at the end of next year.
“The way the conference system is set up, there’s a real carrot there to win your conference and make finals and get a home semi, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”
Higginbotham has timed his run perfectly, with the Test back-row currently in flux ahead of David Pocock’s rugby sabbatical next year.
Stiles said Higginbotham has “unfinished business” with the Wallabies.
“Queensland is home to him, he’s still very passionate about being in the Reds, he wants to come back and he wants to play for the Wallabies so he’s extremely motivated,” Stiles said.
The other new face is ex-NRL winger Lachlan Maranta, the grandson of one of the founders of the Brisbane Broncos, for whom he has played for the last five seasons.
The 24-year-old will serve as back-up to current Reds fullback Karmichael Hunt while also adding depth on the wings.
Higginbotham and Maranta join incoming stars Smith, Quade Cooper, Wallabies captain Stephen Moore, Leroy Houston and Caleb Timu, while the in-form Samu Kerevi has been retained along with James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas and Nick Frisby, who were already on the books.
It leaves the Reds boasting a mammoth 540 caps of Test experience, compared to just 355 this year.
QUEENSLAND REDS – 2017 SQUAD
Props: Sef Fa’agase, Pettowa Paraka, James Slipper, Sam Talakai, Taniela Tupou, Markus Vanzati.
Hookers: Alex Mafi, Stephen Moore, Andrew Ready.
Second Row: Kane Douglas, Cadeyrn Neville, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Lukhan Tui.
Back Row: Michael Gunn, Reece Hewat, Scott Higginbotham, Leroy Houston, Adam Korczyk, George Smith, Caleb Timu, Hendrik Tui.
Scrumhalves: Nick Frisby, Moses Sorovi, James Tuttle.
Flyhalves: Quade Cooper, Jake McIntyre.
Centres: Samu Kerevi, Campbell Magnay, Duncan Paia’aua, Henry Taefu.
Outside Backs: Chris Feauai-Sautia, Karmichael Hunt, Chris Kuridrani, Lachlan Maranta, Jayden Ngamanu, Eto Nabuli, Izaia Perese.