No Will, is there a way for Queensland Reds?

JIM MORTON
Last updated 13:55 06/02/2013
Will Genia
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BLESSING IN DISGUISE: Will Genia says his injury has provided him with some much needed time off.

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Without Will, is there a way for the Queensland Reds?

That's the big question Australia's leading Super Rugby franchise must answer immediately if they are to continue their resurgence under Ewen McKenzie.

Halfback Will Genia, arguably the most influential and irreplaceable player in the country, will miss the first month of the 2013 competition, at least, as he recovers from a knee reconstruction.

The Reds' attacking general - who played virtually every minute in the past three seasons - is rehabbing ahead of schedule and will be back mid-season but that may be too late in a competition which requires a burst out of the blocks.

Genia was the Reds' player of the year in 2010 and 2011, rallying his side brilliantly and producing the match-winning plays when needed.

Even though McKenzie has developed a squad overflowing with talent, including 19 Wallabies, the 41-Test star has been the glue to make it all stick together.

Now it's up to perennial Mr Fix-It Ben Lucas to step up and take back the halfback reins he held in 2009 until Genia returns.

With Genia and partner-in-crime Quade Cooper starting together, the Reds racked up a remarkable record of 28 wins from 36 matches (78 per cent) from 2010-12.

Last year when Cooper missed 12 games following his own knee surgery, their success rate was 50 per cent.

But McKenzie, who holds great faith in the whole-hearted utility Lucas, isn't perturbed.

"We had the same discussion last year when Quade was injured - we battled, and it wasn't easy, but we still made the finals," McKenzie said.

"Every year since I got here (late 2009) there's been 'you can't do it without Berrick (Barnes)' then 'you can't do it without (Daniel) Braid' and then 'you can't do it without Cooper'.

"The squad stood up every year and found ways to achieve.

"A lot of people forget that Ben was playing nine before Will came on to the scene."

The Reds also have to replace the energetic input of Scott Higginbotham (Melbourne Rebels) at No.8 but are ready to back Jake Schatz and Ed Quirk to team with rising ball-scavenger Liam Gill in a young back row.

On the flip side for Queensland, inspirational skipper James Horwill (hamstring) starts the season afresh after missing the end of 2012.

McKenzie has been joined by former Western Force coach Richard Graham at Ballymore and they have the enviable task of leaving Test players out of their starting 15.

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Most selection headaches will be in a backline squad which boasts 10 Wallabies and more young guns coming through.

"To do well in this competition you have to have Wallabies-standard players on the bench so hopefully we can get ourselves in that situation this year with a bit of luck," McKenzie said.

- AAP

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