The St.George Queensland Reds have fallen agonisingly close to victory in their opening pre-season match of 2019 after going down 29-26 to the Melbourne Rebels at Mars Stadium in Ballarat.
Holding a two-point lead in the final seconds of the game, Queensland was unable to hold off a charging Rebels attack who stole a three-point victory after the final siren.
A dominant scrum, improved kicking game and strong performances from some of the squad’s fresh faces were among the positives from the Reds first outing of 2019.
Reds head coach Brad Thorn said: “It’s a good start. It was good for the guys to get time and come through unscathed with no injuries.
“I was really pleased with the defence from the guys. They kept turning up and there was some good contact there. I thought there was some good parts to our set piece around our scrum, but some work to do with our mauling.
“Using the ball, we were stop-start early in the game, but we got some continuity as the game went on and the guys sort of warmed into it,” Thorn added.
Despite being camped on their own line for the majority of the opening quarter, it was the Rebels who found the line first when centre Billy Meakes crossed in the 20th minute. Quade Cooper converted to give the home side a 7-0 lead at the first break.
A rolling maul delivered the Rebels their second try in the 38th minute, before the Reds hit back for their first five-pointer just minutes later.
It was Duncan Paia’aua who found the line after the inside centre sliced through the Rebels’ defence to score Queensland’s first points of 2019. New recruit Bryce Hegarty slotted the conversion to trail 12-7 at the halftime.
Another new recruit was responsible for the Reds’ next try, after Queensland pathway product Feao Fotuaika charged his way through Melbourne’s goal line defence to score. Isaac Lucas converted from out wide to give the Reds a 14-12 lead with 30 minutes remaining on the clock.
The Rebels were next to cross after some enterprising counter attack gave Archie King his first try of 2019. A successful conversion consolidated the Rebels lead to five at 19-14.
The Reds replied in the 60th minute to equal the score when Scott Higginbotham dug his way through the Rebels defence close to the line. Lucas missed the conversion to keep the game locked at 19-all heading into the final quarter of play.
The Reds broke the deadlock five minutes into the final period after West Australian recruit Jack Hardy found a hole in the Rebels line to streak away to score. Lucas added his second successful conversion of the day to put the score out to 26-19 heading into the final 15 minutes of play.
The Rebels quickly responded with a Justin Masters try in the 68th minute, but a missed conversion ensured the Reds maintained a slim lead at 26-24.
The two-point lead wasn’t enough for the Reds, as the Rebels forced a scrum turnover in the dying seconds of the game before Stu Dunbar finished the play out wide to give the home side a 29-26 victory.
The Reds will return to Ballymore next Friday February 8 when they host the Chiefs in their second and final pre-season clash of 2019.
St.George Queensland Reds 26 (Paia’aua, Fotuaika, Higginbotham, Hardy. Conversions: Hegarty, Lucas 2) defeated by Melbourne Rebels 29 at Mars Stadium, Ballarat on 1st February 2019