Liam Wright’s likely return has provided a timely morale boost for the injury-hit Queensland Reds.
The back-rower and co-captain has barely been sighted this season thanks to shoulder and ankle injuries, the latter requiring surgery after a warm-up incident just minutes before kick-off.
That was almost two months ago, the Wallabies talent’s absence since swallowed up by injuries to a host of other teammates including high-profile trio Hunter Paisami, Taniela Tupou and James O’Connor.
Tupou won’t play again this season while O’Connor would only be a chance if the Reds progress to the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals.
Promising outside back Josh Flook (shoulder) will also require more surgery after his great season painfully ended against Moana Pasifika on Friday.
Wright’s return would at least bolster a formidable back row that includes the match-turning Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight to face the Crusaders on Friday.
“There’s a long list of them (injuries), hopefully some back this week or in the finals,” co-captain Tate McDermott said.
“But finally the co-captaincy comes into fruition … apart from the first game of the year, where I think he (Wright) got injured at halftime, we’ve never really been on the field together.
“It’s awesome for me, to have another voice out there particularly in our forward pack. That leadership that’s kind of been missing.”
The Reds regularly carried a double-figure injury list into games this season and, after a 7-1 start against Australian rivals, it’s caught up to them.
Now 8-5, the Reds are likely to finish the season in seventh and facing the prospect of back-to-back trips to Christchurch to face the second-placed Crusaders in a quarter-final.
McDermott hinted Lawson Creighton would get another crack in O’Connor’s No.10 jersey this week despite them going 0-3 with him in the saddle when the first-choice five-eighth was last injured.
But a 24-20 loss in Christchurch in 2020, when the now Japan-based Isaac Lucas deputised for injured O’Connor gives the Reds hope.
“We took a lot of belief from that game; looking back on it, it was a crucial game (for the Reds’ rebuild),” McDermott said of their loss despite scoring four tries to three.
“We’ve got to take the confidence from our first win in a while (against Pasifika) and turn it into belief.
“Yes, we can focus on all the threats the Crusaders have and (you do) respect them as one of the best club sides in the world.
“But the best we can do is show up and play the game to the best of our potential and that’s not one-out or being conservative.
“It’s about using a mobile pack, getting those big wingers early ball in space with time to make decisions.”