For the past six years the Sharks have had the upper hand against their week four opposition, the 2011 Super Rugby Champions, Queensland Reds. The Sharks though have not played this team since 2010 at Kings Park when they just pipped the Reds by 30 – 28 and this was before they literally became a Champion side. Questions about the past, their losing streak and their more recent success and what pressures it might add gets shrugged of, they confidently deflect them like Superman would rubber bullets. “I don’t know about pressure” captain James Horwill, says, a curious smile on his face throughout the interview, “I think it’s something we’re pretty happy about, we’re not going out there to defend last years title, we’re trying to win it again this year.
And what about the losing streak against the Sharks, not having won against them at Kings Park since 2004, does that play on their minds at all? “Not really. A lot of the blokes in the group are too young anyway,” quips vice captain Will Genia “It would be massive to turn that record around, sure, but I guess this current Queensland side has ticked a few boxes in the last couple of years, winning here and there and winning games we’re not supposed to win. I think with the group we have now we don’t even think about those things. It’s all about fronting up on the day and playing as well as we can to get the result.”
The Reds admit that they have not played their best rugby so far this season, but this side is so confident you might as well be pointing a rubber loaded weapon at Superman, as any attempts to question their strength gets squashed with a collective: “Good teams find ways to win” from Vice Captain, Captain and Coach. The Sharks will have to find some kind of Kryptonite that will eliminate the power of confidence that this team possesses.
An upside for the Sharks is that the Reds are coming into this game with 6 major injuries, not the least of which their creative and highly influential flyhalf Quade Cooper, but even this doesn’t phase the men from Brisbane. “Sure, but I got a lot of faith in the whole group” says coach Ewen McKenzie “We’ve got twenty plus really good players, which we have a lot of faith in, so I don’t really care about the injuries. I can put anyone out there and know they will give us something.” With his policy on rotation and managing the guys, something he got quite used to coaching in Europe, a couple of injuries won’t phase him. “It’s a long hall until August, you need the depth any way. So if we get an injury we just park the one guy and put the next guy in.” says the coach. In his opinion you need to get the players that will be back-up for internationals or starting players ready to play when needed in anyway, so for them to get some game time now is not the worst thing that could happen.
The team seems to be happy with the job stand in flyhalf Ryan Harris has been doing, admittedly he is not in the same mould as Cooper and brings his own attributes to the game, being much more of a kicking flyhalf but they are happy with the way he has handled himself so far and the way he has organised the team, especially considering that he has also not played a lot of rugby in the last year and mostly played at 12 when he did run out for them. “He’s been doing what we want, he’s not Quade Cooper and we haven’t asked him to play like Quade, just play like he plays and we will adapt the game around that.” says Coach McKenzie “It’s still early days”. But Cooper will only be back in 6 to 7 weeks though so Harris will still have some time to grow into the role if the Reds choose to pick him there, which they decided against for this weekend.
A lot of the talk around this game has been around the exciting backs of the Reds and the powerful pack of the Sharks and which contest will proof to be the deciding factor, but McKenzie feels that it is not that simple, “I think it’s easy to say that the Sharks have good forwards and the Reds have good backs” says the coach “But the Sharks also have good backs and you can see that in Lambie and Pieterson, you’ve got plenty of good players there and we back our forwards.” he seems proud when he says this, “Our forwards won us the title last year. You can’t fake that. We won 15 out of 18 games. You don’t do that with crappy forwards. It will take 15 players. In fact, it will take 22 players to get the job done.” Smart words from the man and what he is saying is true, the Reds have not been playing flashy rugby, but they have gotten the wins they wanted.
The Sharks have made the attacking move of shifting JP Pieterson closer to the ball at 13 and the feeling is that this was a smart move by the Sharks as this gives them some variety that was needed and more options on attack, but McKenzie was also quick to point out that a move like this could easily bring as much disadvantages as it could advantages. “We’ve moved Digby into the 13 channel before, so we know exactly what that gives you and sometimes it gives you certain things you don’t want.” said McQueen almost slyly, “Wingers don’t defend as much, it’s a hard position to defend in, so we’ll definitely be looking at that, but they have some options now.”
Talking to these guys one gets the feeling that they would be able to get by on confidence and energy alone. It’s not about how they’re going to win the game or what they’re going to do. Sure McKenzie mentioned that they have a couple of plans and tactics specifically to win against the Sharks, but they keep these pretty close to the chest. I’m sure tactics are a huge part of it, but it’s when he becomes philosophical and passionate that one can really see why they are a champion team. “All I can guarantee is that we have got our best rugby still ahead of us.” he looks me straight in the eyes as he has been for the whole interview, “Saturday could be our best game, we just need that moment. Every team has them. Where you go out there and something just clicks and the passes stick and you get the bounce of the ball and suddenly you get a good score.”
The Sharks will need their own kind of Kryptonite to break the power of these guys’ confidence or approach the game from a different angle. Don’t battle the confidence, ignore it, concentrate on your own strengths, your own game and rely on the fact that confidence is mental, figurative and the only thing that will win you the game on the day is the game you deliver, your performance, literal. Confidence can only bring you so much. Confidence can be shattered by one amazing performance. Confidence no matter how great can never conquer the better game.