All Blacks maestro Daniel Carter will return to Super 14 action off the bench against Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
In news that will warm the hearts of all New Zealand fans but make the battling Reds’ assignment even tougher, the Test five-eighth will play his first match for the table-topping Crusaders in six weeks following an ankle injury.
Foxsports reports that newly-appointed Australia coach Robbie Deans will announce his team on Thursday before flying to Brisbane but it’s understood the classy 26-year-old will be named as a reserve.
Understudy Stephen Brett will retain the No.10 jersey ahead of the in-demand Carter who is being chased by several cashed-up European clubs.
The Reds don’t expect any solace from the decision with coach Phil Mooney rating Brett an All Blacks five-eighth in waiting.
“There’s not a lot between them,” Mooney said.
“Brett would have to be in the mix for the All Blacks.”
Deans is also expected to rest up to four senior players in the penultimate match before the play-offs.
Queensland were forced to make a late change to their team with Wallabies five-eighth Berrick Barnes doubling as back-up half-back after Will Genia was ruled out of the rest of the Super 14.
Genia underwent exploratory surgery on a lingering ankle problem after injuring it a fortnight ago in the 32-20 loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
With veteran half-back Sam Cordingley (calf) also sidelined and in doubt of returning this season, Mooney said inside centre Barnes would also cover the specialist position at Suncorp Stadium.
Impressive youngster Ben Lucas, who started the year as a five-eighth in the Queensland academy, is the only fit half-back in the Reds squad and will aim to play out the match against the Crusaders.
Former Brisbane Broncos utility Barnes has never played halfback in rugby before but his younger brother Jock is a No.9 for Brisbane club Wests and has trained in the position this year.
“He’s trained there and the one thing that stands him in good stead is that he was a dummy-half in rugby league and they are similar roles,” Mooney said.
“And he loves it. I wouldn’t have a problem playing Berrick at half-back.”
Speedster Brando Va’aulu, originally dropped after Wallabies fullback Chris Latham was named to start, has rejoined the bench.
Latham is one of four changes to the Reds squad after overcoming a knee ligament strain that has sidelined him for the last four weeks.
Goalkicker Clinton Schifcofske moves to the wing to make room for Latham, forcing the tackle-busting Digby Ioane back to the bench.
With former skipper John Roe out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, versatile back-rower Tasi Luafutu has replaced Scott Higginbotham at blindside flanker.
Teenage prop Ben Daley, the son of former Kangaroos and Manly rugby league front-rower Phil Daley, is set to make his Super 14 debut off the bench, facing up against veteran All Black Greg Somerville following the suspension on Rodney Blake.
15. Leon MacDonald (Canterbury)
14. Kade Poki (Tasman)
13. Casey Laulala (Canterbury)
12. Tim Bateman (Canterbury)
11. Sean Maitland (Canterbury)
10. Stephen Brett (Canterbury)
9. Kahn Fotuali’i (Tasman)
8. Mose Tuiali’i (Canterbury)
7. Richard McCaw (Canterbury, captain)
6. Kieran Read (Canterbury)
5. Ross Filipo (Drafted player)
4. Brad Thorn (Tasman)
3. Greg Somerville (Canterbury)
2. Ti’i Paulo (Canterbury)
1. Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury)
Run on reserves:
16. Corey Flynn (Canterbury)
17. Ben Franks (Tasman)
18. Ali Williams (Tasman)
19. George Whitelock (Canterbury)
20. Andrew Ellis (Canterbury)
21. Daniel Carter (Canterbury)
22. Caleb Ralph (Tasman)