The Reds have lacked experience, leadership and grunt up front during their downturn over the past three seasons, but the franchise has received a massive boost in all three departments courtesy of the return of Stephen Moore – despite the Wallabies skipper ruling out putting his hand up for the Reds captaincy.
The respected hooker played 46 games for the Reds from 2003-08, before becoming an integral member of the Brumbies front-row in 117 appearances over the ensuing eight Super Rugby campaigns.
But the Brisbane Grammar School-educated No.2 is back in his home state, and is eager to help resurrect the 2011 champs’ fortunes after they finished 13th, 13th and 15th in the past three seasons.
Moore, a veteran of 116 Tests, has an unusual background for an Australian captain. Born in Saudi Arabia to Irish parents, he lived in Galway before emigrating Down Under with his family at the age of five, firstly to Mount Morgan and then to Rockhampton.
It was in Brisbane that his talent was recognised, donning the maroon jumper for the first time aged just 20, and breaking into the Wallabies set-up just two years later in 2005. He had become part of the furniture in Canberra, however, and sits at equal-fifth on the Brumbies’ all-time appearances register.
But the 33-year-old is the jewel in an aggressive recruitment drive by the Reds for 2017, with Test teammates Quade Cooper and Scott Higginbotham also returning to Brisbane after stints overseas, and another Brumbies legend, the 36-year-old George Smith, also coming on board.
Boasting a novice-stacked line-up in 2016, the Reds now have one of the more experienced squads in the competition.
“I think the club has done a great job to put a really good squad together,” Moore said at a press conference at Ballymore on Tuesday.
“There’s some older players and a lot of good young players that can have long careers here.
“The team has spent most of the off-season working really hard trying to get that work ethic in place.
“That’s what sets you up for the year, and every team is doing that, but I can see some really good things here.”
— Queensland Reds (@Reds_Rugby) January 10, 2017
The ‘new’ contingent will combine with existing blue-chip talent such as James Slipper, Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons, Nick Frisby, Samu Kerevi and Karmichael Hunt.
Meanwhile, Nick Stiles – a teammate of Moore’s during his early years at the Reds – suits up for his first full season as head coach after he and Matt O’Connor replaced Richard Graham midway through a trying 2016 campaign.
Moore was reticent to make any big statements about the Reds’ prospects of returning to the finals, but is confident the right structures are in place to ensure significant improvement.
“‘Stilesy’ has been very big on just working hard and not talking too much about outcomes and winning things,” he said.
“It’s about playing our style in front of our fans and making them proud of what we want to do.”
The veteran confirmed he will not be throwing his hat into the ring for the captaincy, preferring to leave the duties to Slipper.
“No,” Moore bluntly said when asked if he was interested in the Reds captaincy.
“A big part of my role here is to help James and the other leaders as well. It takes a team. The team with the most leaders often does the best.
“If we can establish a strong culture around leadership and not rely too much on one or two people it will be a step in the right direction.
“James did a great job in a tough environment last year. He’s only going to learn and improve from that.”
The Reds kick off their Super 18 season with a home game against the Sharks on Friday, February 24 at Suncorp Stadium, before travelling to Perth for a showdown with the Force in Round 2, and a daunting home assignment against the Crusaders in the third week of the competition.