Nick Stiles faces a range of ongoing selection headaches this Super Rugby season but the new Queensland Reds coach admits his biggest one is finding a partner for Wallaby centre Samu Kerevi.
Tuesday night’s final pre-season trial against the Melbourne Rebels at Ballymore should provide a good glimpse into his thinking around the midfield roles, with the Reds set to unleash a near full-strength side.
The Reds are expected to be big improvers in Super Rugby after a massive recruiting drive that netted the likes of Stephen Moore, George Smith, Quade Cooper and Scott Higginbotham.
Most of those names pick themselves, but Stiles is wracking his brain trying to find the right man to play alongside Kerevi, last year’s breakout star at both provincial and Test level.
“It’s probably, for me, one of my toughest decisions to be honest – just to get the right combination of who’s going to play with (Kerevi),” Stiles said on Monday.
“His performances last year in Super Rugby were absolutely outstanding. He then went and backed that up through the international season and now he’s got the ability to play 12 or 13.”
Most of Stiles’ options are younger players in Duncan Paia’aua, Henry Taefu and Campbell Magnay, all of whom had a taste of Super Rugby last year.
But a more left-field candidate is Karmichael Hunt, who has spent most of his Reds career to date either at fullback, or on the sidelines with injury, but has made no secret of his desire to move into the frontline.
It’s likely the former AFL and NRL player will start the season at No.15 as he continues his return from groin surgery, but if his eye-catching form at the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens over the weekend is any indication, a shift to the centres could be on the cards at some point.
“He looks like a footballer again, rather than this hybrid AFL-rugby player,” Stiles said.
Smith, who only recently completed a season in the Japanese Top League, most likely won’t play against the Rebels, who will put out their best available side at Ballymore.
Higginbotham, meanwhile, is available to play after the Australian Rugby Union’s integrity unit completed their investigation into his arrest in Brisbane last weekend.
The ARU won’t take any action against the former Test back-rower, who has been charged with assaulting a police officer and being found in a police establishment without a lawful excuse, until he faces court on February 21.