Injured Wallabies back Berrick Barnes will rush back into action before the Super 14 kick-off, increasing his chances of being appointed Reds skipper.
According to the Australia Associated Press, in a major boost to the Reds, their backline linchpin is recovering strongly from a serious knee injury sustained in the Wallabies spring tour.
The playmaking Barnes’s unlucky tour lasted just two weeks after he tore his posterior cruciate ligament 13 minutes into his 13th Test, the tense 30-20 victory over Italy in Padova.
But fears he’d be sidelined with regular Reds captain James Horwill (foot) for the first month of the Super 14 have disappeared with a speedy recovery.
Barnes is back running and taking a limited involvement in the Reds’ three-day pre-season camp at Casuarina Beach on the Tweed Coast, starting on Wednesday.
The 22-year-old is even confident of playing at least one of the Reds’ two final trials against the Blues in Auckland and the Western Force at Ballymore in early February.
“The second trial is a maybe while the third is virtually certain,” Barnes said.
“I wouldn’t mind having two (games) just to get into the swing of things.”
With Wallabies lock Horwill expected to miss the first half of the tournament, a fit Barnes measures up as the favourite to captain a youthful outfit.
The Reds have lost old heads John Roe (retired), Sam Cordingley (Grenoble), Chris Latham (Worcester) and David Croft (retired), who all captained the side at some point in their long careers, from the outfit that finished 12th in 2008.
Barnes is the only remaining member of the five-man 2008 leadership group and is highly regarded by Mooney, his coaching staff, his team-mates and the QRU’s front office.
The former Brisbane Bronco was originally overlooked for leadership duties last year as coach Phil Mooney didn’t want to over-burden his young decision-maker.
But after a full season in Wallabies colours, impressing in attack as a second ball-player beside Matt Giteau and more particularly in defence, the coach believes Barnes can handle the extra responsibility.
Mooney is set to choose his new leadership group during the Casuarina camp which is likely to include his other captaincy contenders Greg Holmes and Sean Hardman.
As hooker Hardman is not guaranteed a starting spot as the Reds coaches think highly of young Brumbies recruit Saia Faingaa, it appears a choice between Barnes and prop Holmes.
“It’s not an easy job,” Barnes said on Wednesday. “You’ve got a lot of responsibility but whoever gets the nod to captain Queensland it’s going to be a great honour.
“So I’d be pretty happy if it came my way.”
The Reds’ Super 14 season starts with an imposing two-match trip to South Africa to play the 2007 championship-winning Bulls in Pretoria (February 14) and the Stormers in Cape Town (February 20).
Blues recruit Daniel Braid looms as another to join the leadership group in his first season at Ballymore, as is Wallabies forward Hugh McMeniman.Tweet