The Queensland Reds will be hoping to build off last season’s quarter-final exit as they look to establish their title credentials.
Brad Thorn’s men started the year strong, winning seven of their first eight games, before falling away as injuries took their toll.
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They once again struggled against Kiwi opposition, seeing them leapfrogged by Australian rivals ACT Brumbies and NSW Waratahs to finish seventh, eliminated by the Crusaders.
Heading into next year, there are several players eager to perform with their World Cup spots on the line as Brad Thorn looks to replicate their 2021 success.
With this in mind, Rugby.com.au looks at the five key talking points for the Reds heading into 2023.
1. Delivering against the Kiwi teams
This served as the key issue in last year’s talking points but remains central to the Queensland Reds as they fail to secure those vital wins against the Kiwi opposition.
The Reds started the year on fire but once that crossover period came, they struggled to adapt to the style of the game the Kiwis brought.
A lone win against Moana Pasifika was all they could manage, leaving them limping into the finals before two straight defeats to the Crusaders.
There’s no chance to build into the competition like last year, opening their season against the Hurricanes. It’s going to be a perfect measuring stick after they gave up a 17-0 lead against the Wellington-based side during the Super Round, setting the tone for the rest of the season.
Brad Thorn’s tenure as Reds coach has been a resounding success, although he’ll feel the pressure if they can’t get 2023 off to a strong start.
2. Injury problems already
A big reason for the Reds’ late-season collapse can be attributed to their extensive injury list.
Taniela Tupou and James O’Connor were the big two losses as they failed to adapt. They will remain on the sidelines for the foreseeable future after picking up fresh injuries during Wallabies and club duties respectively.
Tupou’s loss is a big one, leaving the Reds struggling at prop after a long-term injury to Harry Hoopert playing for Australia A.
They signed pathway product Phransis Sula-Siaosi but it’s a position they remain thin at without a ball being kicked yet in 2023.
As for flyhalf, Lawson Creighton showed he can handle Super Rugby but needs to find another level if he wishes to guide the Reds to glory.
3. Suli’s time to shine
There might not be a player under more pressure than Suliasi Vunivalu heading into 2023.
Vunivalu has been earmarked as a Wallaby since making the switch but finds himself down the pecking order after disappointing performances for Australia A.
This has seen the likes of Mark Nawaqanitawase and Jock Campbell leap-frog the league into the back-three depth charts for the Wallabies.
He possesses an incredible X-Factor on his day and needs to remind everyone of just how special he can be on his day to book his ticket to France
4. Point to prove
Harry Wilson’s status in the Wallabies set-up remains no clearer 12 months on from when this similar question was asked in last year’s version of this preview.
Wilson all of a sudden went from starting in a Bledisloe Test to out of the squad for the Spring Tour as he fell behind Valetini, Samu, Gleeson and co.
With the back-row stocks healthy as ever, Wilson will be desperate to nail down his spot in the Wallabies squad.
The same can be said about James O’Connor when he returns from injury.
O’Connor was a shock omission from the remainder of the Rugby Championship, seemingly taking the brunt of the thumping defeat to Argentina.
The flyhalf position remains wide open for the taking if O’Connor can get back to full fitness and recapture his 2021 form.
5. Discipline issues
No Australian team gave away more cards than the Queensland Reds, with 14 cards handed out in 2022.
This included back-to-back red cards to Tuaina Taii Tualima and Dane Zander, with 13 different players drawing the wrath of the referee.
It’s a key issue Thorn must work on if they want to match it with the best.