NRC: Brad Thorn eager to lead QLD Country from the front

brad-thorn-during-the-all-blacks-v-france-world-cup-final.jpg.hashed.b2a86e2c.desktop.story.inline

By Michael Atkinson

Imagine you’ve just finished a rugby season for your club, perhaps you’ve won the premiership and adding to that elation, you’ve been selected in a National Rugby Championship squad.

Now imagine your first game is against Queensland Country and running out on to the field for them is a guy who has won a Rugby World Cup, a NRL Premiership, a Heineken Cup, several Super Rugby Championships and is widely regarded as one of the greatest All Blacks of all time.

That’s the affect Queensland Country are hoping to have when they roll out Brad Thorn as a player-coach for the 2016 NRC season.

“I feel ok, you know. I’ve never stopped training. The only difference in my life from the last 20 years is that I haven’t been playing on Saturdays,” said Thorn.

“I just enjoy playing. I don’t feel like I’m blocking anyone, and I won’t.”

In his first season as a coach, Thorn has been tasked with guiding the next generation of Queensland forwards, helping the Queensland U20s side to an undefeated title in the inaugural Super 20s Championship.

The former All Black views the opportunity to strap on the boots as a chance to provide further development for his young charges.

“A big part of the motivation was, I brought the U20s forwards through and some of those guys are going to be in the Country side,” said Thorn.

“I was keen to give them a different type of coaching.”

It’s an asset that new head coach Toutai Kefu was keen to endorse.

“As a player on the field and as a coach, he can lead by example. It’s a great coaching tool, I think. You can instruct, but to lead by example it’s a great way to show the boys.”

Kefu, a former Wallaby with an impressive playing record of his own, was in awe of Thorn’s physique and willingness to take the field again at the ripe old age of 41.

“He trains everyday, I get a bit embarrassed standing next to him some times. He’s fit, he loves it. He loves playing, he loves training.”

Likely to partner Thorn in the second row are youngsters Izack Rodda from Easts and University’s Phil Potieter. Potgieter featured in Country’s 2015 campaign and he headlines a list of 22 players returning from last season.

Several departing Reds players have pledged their allegiance to Queensland Country despite signing on with other Super Rugby franchises for 2017, with Lolo Fakaosilea, Saia Fainga’a and Ben Daley all opting to stay in Queensland for the NRC competition.

Adding extra flair to the Country assault for 2016 will be Reds winger, Eto Nabuli and Norths backrower, Apisai Naiyabo. The two Fijian powerhouses will bring natural skill and athleticism that Kefu will look to harness in his game plan.

“My coaching philosophy is I like to play running rugby. I like to use each individual’s talent and get them to express themselves. I try to facilitate more and let the players decide what they want to do,” said Kefu.

“I think the players will learn more if they get across what they want to do and the coaches and I just facilitate.”

Having played in all 16 of Queensland Country’s NRC games, halfback James Tuttle will return to captain the side in 2016, and the 20-year old is looking forward to a stronger campaign this year.

“We’re really excited. We had a team meeting on Saturday and just looking at the faces around the room, you know we’ve got blokes that have played Wallabies and blokes that have played All Blacks and we’ve got some young blokes that are coming through the system, so we’re really excited,” said Tuttle.

“Toutai Kefu coming in as head coach was always going to be a positive for us as well, so we’re just really looking forward to getting going.”

The Country boys will kick off their 2016 campaign at home at Bond University on the Gold Coast on Sunday 28th August against last year’s grand finalists, Canberra Vikings.

Full squad:

Richie Asiata, Tom Banks, Tyrell Barker, Josh Birch, Alex Casey, Jack Cornelsen, Ben Daley, Sef Fa’agase, Saia Fainga’a, Lolo Fakaosilea, Matt Gordon, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Maclean Jones, Feleti Kaitu’u, Tyronne Lefau, Campbell Magnay, Scott Malolua, Mack Mason, Liam McNamara, Connor Mitchell, Eto Nabuli, Apisai Naiyabo, Duncan Paia’aua, Izaia Perese, Tom Pincus, Phil Potgieter, Izack Rodda, Kirwan Sanday, Angus Scott-Young, Brad  Thorn, Taniela Tupou and James Tuttle.