The Reds will be desperate to put a nightmare 2016 season behind them when they kick-off the new campaign at home to the Sharks on Friday.
Just three wins were tallied by the men from Queensland as they drew one and lost eleven to miss out on the play-offs by a huge 26 points. The Sharks, in contrast, made the knockout stage but went out with a whimper in the quarter-finals, going down 41-0 against the Hurricanes.
2017 is all about new beginnings in Brisbane though as the cheque book has come out, with Stephen Moore, George Smith, Scott Higginbotham and Quade Cooper all arriving as they look to become Australia’s leading side once again, with Nick Stiles the man at the helm this year.
They have shown promise during pre-season and will hope the returning Cooper delivers on those flashes of quality and drives a revival for the former champions. If he can ignite the dangerous Samu Kerevi, who beat 62 defenders in 2016, the second most of any player behind only Damian McKenzie (67), and Smith rolls back the years then they will challenge their countrymen for a guaranteed spot in the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile the only way is up for the Sharks after last year but having won just two of their last seven away games, they need to fix their travel issues. However, the last time they visited Australia was a 21-14 win over the Reds in Round 15 of 2015, which will encourage them.
Also a boost is the return from injury of Cobus Reinach and Patrick Lambie as the half-back combination. Their fans will hope that offsets the departures of the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Paul Jordaan, JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux as they look to top the Africa 2 Conference.
Further positives for the Sharks come in the form of them having won eight of their last 10 encounters with the Reds including each of the last two, while the Reds have won just one of their four matches across the last two seasons when hosting a South African side, giving the visitors plenty of hope of starting Super Rugby 2017 with a victory on the road. It would be an ideal start before travelling to Canberra.
The last time these teams met: These two last faced off in Round 15 of 2015’s campaign when the Sharks ran out 21-14 winners in Brisbane. Stefan Ungerer crossed twice while Francois Steyn kicked 11 points for them, with Chris Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi the Reds’ try-scorers.
Players to watch: As mentioned, Quade Cooper impressed against the Rebels last week with ball in hand and he’ll need to be on top form on Friday if the hosts are to claim the points. The Reds and Wallabies need the fly-half back to his best and with the maturing Nick Frisby alongside, Cooper has an able partner to drive their challenge in 2017. Also keep an eye on the scoring threat that is Scott Higginbotham.
For the Sharks the return of Cobus Reinach and Patrick Lambie is such a fillip. Reinach is lethal around the fringes and was establishing himself as a top class nine before injury struck last year. Lambie meanwhile will be thrilled to be back in Sharks colours as he looks to lead his side by example. Bok fans will monitor both his and Handré Pollard’s form but for Lambie, his focus will be solely on the Sharks.
Team news: Veteran flank George Smith will become Queensland representative number 1307 after being named to make his Reds debut in the seven shirt. Friday’s match will also signal a return to Suncorp Stadium in Reds colours for Stephen Moore, Scott Higginbotham and Quade Cooper, who have all been named in the starting XV. While Smith is the only ‘debutant’ in the Reds’ line-up, Markus Vanzati, Izack Rodda and Izaia Perese are in line to make their Reds and Super Rugby bows after being named on the replacements bench for the Brisbane clash.
Lwazi Mvovo is set to play his 100th match for the Sharks after being named on the left wing. Patrick Lambie will lead with Tera Mtembu deputising a team boasting a strong mix of youth and experience. Young players who have shone have been given the opportunity to impress.
Form: The Reds were impressive in their pre-season clash with the Rebels as they ran out 32-13 winners despite leaking an early try. Rob Simmons, Eto Nabuli, Chris Kuridrani and Scott Higginbotham scored their tries while Quade Cooper showed several touches of class at 10.
The Sharks hammered a Bulls XV 53-7 in their final pre-season hit-out as Kobus van Wyk (3), Cobus Reinach, Lwazi Mvovo, Jeremy Ward, Wian Vosloo, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Sibusiso Nkosi scored their tries. Patrick Lambie knocked over four conversions in a comfortable home win.
2015: Sharks won 21-14 in Brisbane
2014: Sharks won 35-20 in Durban
2013: Reds won 32-17 in Brisbane
2012: Sharks won 30-17 in Brisbane
2012: Sharks won 27-22 in Durban
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Markus Vanzati, 18 Sef Fa’agase, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Jake McIntyre, 23 Izaia Perese
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie (c), 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Clement Poitrenaud
Date: Friday, February 24
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 20:00 local (09:00 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)