Three new starters for Reds rugby opener

Former Rebels back Sefa Naivalu is poised to make his Super Rugby debut for the Reds in Dunedin.
Former Rebels back Sefa Naivalu is poised to make his Super Rugby debut for the Reds in Dunedin.

The transformation of Feao Fotuaika from overweight club prop to Super Rugby starter is the feel good story of the Queensland Reds' season opener against the Highlanders, says coach Brad Thorn.

The coach said they were "ready to rip in" after a first round bye and demanding pre-season, with Fotuaika's progress a symbol of how hard they've all worked.

"Feao is a feel-good story," Thorn said.

"He was out of shape and on the verge of giving up the game.

"We identified him playing club rugby last year and his transformation since has been something to admire."

The older brother of Gold Coast Titans NRL forward Moeaki, Fotuaika ditched the fast food and dropped 16kg from his 143kg frame to earn a Super Rugby contract this year.

"He made a decision that he wanted to have a real crack at this," Thorn said.

"He's down into the 120s (kg) now, he's done a lot of hard work, is respected among the group and it's a special one for him."

Fotuaika is one of three new faces in the Reds' starting side, with Melbourne Rebels recruit Sefa Naivalu and Waratahs pick-up Bryce Hegarty named on the wing and at fullback.

Backrower Fraser McReight and utility back Isaac Lucas could also make their Super Rugby debuts after being included on the bench for the Dunedin clash at the roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Jordan Petaia has edged out Chris Feauai-Sautia and Duncan Paia'aua to partner captain Samu Kerevi in the centres, while five forwards with Wallabies caps bolster their pack.

Thorn said McReight and Lucas had forced their way into contention with their pre-season form, while he backed Hegarty and Naivalu to provide the composure needed behind young halfback Moses Sorovi and five-eighth Hamish Stewart.

The Highlanders started their season with a 30-27 defeat of the Chiefs last Friday.

Halfback Aaron Smith, who scored the late match-winner off the bench last weekend, will start ahead of Kayne Hammington while winger Waisake Naholo returns after being rested in round one.

Lock Jack Whetton -- the son of former All Blacks captain Gary -- is in line to make his Super Rugby debut from the bench.

"It's tough to win in Dunedin, so we'll need to be at our best and execute what we've worked on," said Thorn, who grew up in the region and played two seasons with the Highlanders.

REDS: Bryce Hegarty, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi (capt), Sefa Naivalu, Hamish Stewart, Moses Sorovi, Caleb Timu, Liam Wright, Angus Scott-Young, Lukhan Salakia-Loto, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika. Res: Alex Mafi, Harry Hoopert, Ruan Smith, Harry Hockings, Fraser McReight, Tate McDermott, Duncan Paia'aua, Isaac Lucas.

Australian Associated Press