Preview: Reds v Highlanders

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Friday, May 30, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday, May 30, 2014, 21:35pm (NZT)

Head to head: Played 17, Reds 8, Highlanders 9

Last played: Reds 34-33 Highlanders (March 29, 2013)

Squad update: The elevation of scrumhalf Will Genia to the Queensland centurion’s club – the 29th player to achieve this feat – will hopefully be a boost for a team struggling with injuries. Saia Fainga’a, Jono Owen, Ben Daley, Eddie Quirk, Quade Cooper, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Lachie Turner and Aidan Toua have all entered the Reds casualty ward over the last two weeks. Three players in Andrew Ready, Sef Faagase and Samu Kerevi are likely to make their debuts off the bench.

The Highlanders welcome back All Blacks wider training squad member Liam Coltman from a calf injury, while Gareth Evans and Ma’afu Fia constitute the remaining changes to the forward pack. An inform backline that was restored to full strength last week with the inclusion of Lima Sopoaga remains unchanged.

Form: The Reds have endured a startling fall from grace, sitting bottom of the table with just three wins this season, while they sit on a six match losing streak, their worst since 2008. Already confirmed as a non-participant in the Investec Super Rugby Finals Series, a victory is a must if they are to avoid their second wooden spoon, with their first coming in 2007.

The Highlanders are sitting sixth overall and need a triumph at Suncorp Stadium if they are to continue what has been something of a fairy tale for the men from the Deep South. Second last finishers last season despite a star studded roster, a more workmanlike squad has done the business so far this year, but potentially their sixth loss of the season could drop the team down to tenth by the conclusion of the weekend.

Key players: While the Reds will look to Genia to spark proceedings, it is the forward pack, largely out of form, that must do the business in front of their home crowd. James Horwill, who was found guilty of misconduct during the week, needs a mammoth performance if he is to be handed the Wallabies captaincy again, while Beau Robinson, traditionally among Queensland’s most influential forwards, needs to spark to life.

The Highlanders have the luxury of knowing that their squad is firing, with the likes of Ben and Aaron Smith among the first names to be pencilled in the All Blacks squad named at the end of this round. The forwards, so competitive against a Test laden Crusaders outfit last weekend, will once again need to step up and co-captain Nasi Manu will once again be called upon to do the business in the trenches.

Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.

Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.

Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.