For a team that just lost their eighth game of the season and are out of Super Rugby finals contention, the Queensland Reds are surprisingly excited.
Skipper James Slipper and interim co-coach Nick Stiles liked what they saw in parts of Friday night’s 43-24 loss to the Brumbies.
They heaped plenty of pressure on the Australian conference leaders early in the match despite the freezing conditions at GIO Stadium, before letting slip a game-changing try on the stroke of halftime.
Lock Kane Douglas made a successful return off the bench from a knee injury suffered during last year’s World Cup, while backrower Leroy Houston impressed in his first game back with the Reds in five years.
But Stiles said he was more excited about the performance of Lukhan Tui against a Wallabies-rich pack of Sam Carter, Scott Fardy and Rory Arnold.
It was the 19-year-old’s first start at lock, having only previously played 10 minutes off the bench.
“Gee, he stood up and he played physical and athletic,” Stiles said.
“I’m really happy with him.”
Taniela Tupou, aka the `Tongan Thor’, also made his debut, playing a longer-than-expected 55 minutes.
“We know he can run, he’s explosive – and he showed that,” added Stiles.
“But to see him step up and scrummage the way he did for a 20-year-old footballer playing your first game against Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa, it’s so exciting for us moving forward.
“We wanted to win, but if you cast your mind forward to next season and you look at the players we’re talking about now, there’s a lot of hope and optimism.”
Slipper said the addition of world-class players like Douglas and Houston would only benefit the Reds going into their final two games against the Chiefs and Melbourne Rebels – both at home – and looking ahead to 2017.
“We’re excited that we’re getting a bit of experience back in the team,” he said.
“They’re both quality players and the more minutes they play, it’s only going to help us.”
The Reds will next year also gain Wallabies veterans Stephen Moore and George Smith.