Premier Rugby: Stranded stars set to make 2020 UQ squad even stronger than first expected

By Liz Moore

In a worrying sign for the remainder of the competition, reigning premiers University of Queensland are set to field a stronger team than first expected.

Perennial contenders, the Red Heavies have regained three of their top players who were set to move to overseas clubs before the Covid-19 restrictions came into place.

Former captain Con Foley and former Reds player Scott Gale are available to play after putting their US club commitments on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Meanwhile Alex Horan, son of Wallaby legend Tim, is also back in the team after his plan to move to Japan’s Sunwolves came to an abrupt halt, with the Japanese team now bowing out of Super Rugby.

Long-time Uni coach, Mick Heenan said this puts his 2019 Premiers in a competitive position, with four current Queensland Reds players also in the squad.

“We’re as strong or stronger than we were at the start of the season.”

Heenan said all of his players have turned up to the abridged season’s training fit and ready to go.

“The fitness is fantastic. It’s a credit to the players that they’ve turned up in such good physical condition.

“The boys are really fit, which is great because it means we don’t have to waste time and training too much on conditioning.

“We can focus on a lot of skill work,” he said.

Heenan said this is somewhat of a challenge given the non-contact, social distancing restrictions that currently apply at training.

“It means a lot of non-contact skills work. A lot of games and catching passes, system work I guess. Attack and defence system work.”

And a lot of water bottles, with each player using their own.

Heenan is philosophical about the new-look season, whilst predicting big things across the board.

“I actually think this will be the strongest competition we’ve seen in a while.

“We’re in good shape, and I’m sure the other teams are in pretty good shape as well, so I think it’s going to be a really high-quality competition.”

Heenan likened the shorter season to when he started coaching 12 years ago.

“Unfortunately I’ve been coaching for long enough to remember when I started and the season was split in two so Premier rugby was actually one round.

“It’s going to be a real kind of sprint, we’ve got to hit the ground running.

“Last year it took us a while to find our feet but we just don’t have that luxury this year,” Heenan said, referring to Uni placing seventh halfway through the 2019 season then going on to win 9 of their last 10 games in the second round, before winning the premiership.

“No clubs have got that luxury,” Heenan said.

“We’ve just got to manage training so we’re ready to go.”

Heenan said he expects last year’s finals teams to be up there again this season.

“It’s hard to go past GPS and Brothers, and we’ll probably see Wests improve since they’ve got a new coach.

“It’s hard to tell, someone always surprises us. We found Norths really tough last year.”

Heenan said more than any other year, his squad feels different this season.

“It’s a different group.

“There’s always a bit of turnover every year, and this really does feel like a completely different squad because we’ve just had this upside-down season.”