He hasn’t played since July 18, but Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has called up 20-year-old playmaker Noah Lolesio for the club’s first home final since 2004 as they take on the Queensland Reds on Saturday night at GIO Stadium, Canberra.
The Reds, who haven’t won in Canberra since 2014, have also been forced to make a change after Test winger Chris Feauai-Sautia was officially ruled out of the match, with Hunter Paisami coming into the starting side.
Having progressed straight through to the final by taking out the minor-premiership, the Brumbies have made four changes to their starting side from the one that went down to the Reds in the final round of the regular season 26-7 in Brisbane.
There are two changes to the pack, with Murray Douglas coming in for Darcy Swain in the second-row.
In the back-row, Lachie McCaffrey comes in at blindside flanker with Rob Valetini dropping to the bench.
It’s a brand new halves pairing too, with recalled Wallaby Joe Powell coming in for Nic White and first-time Wallabies squad member Lolesio being called in for Bayley Kuenzle.
But the 20-year-old is so highly regarded that he was picked in Dave Rennie’s Wallabies squad last weekend and has been brought straight into the starting side.
« As a team we’re really happy for Noah, » McKellar said.
« He was playing good footy before his setback, he’s done a lot of work to get himself right and trained very well over the last two weeks. We’ve got full confidence and belief in his ability.
« To be able to play a home final in front of our family and our supporters is something we set out to do at the start of this competition and we can’t wait for that opportunity.
« We’ve prepared well over the last two weeks and we know the Reds are going to be a huge challenge on Saturday night but it’s one we’re looking forward to. »
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Meanwhile, the Reds have tweaked their side from the one that beat the Rebels 25-13 last weekend.
The other change is in the backline and sees first-time Wallabies squad member Hunter Paisami come in at outside centre.
Paisami’s return to the starting side sees Jordan Petaia shift to the right-wing, with Chris Feauai-Sautia ruled out due to injury.
“Grand Final week – this is what it’s all about, » coach Brad Thorn said.
“We’re embracing the challenge ahead against a worthy opponent, whom we respect.
“Our journey to get here started back in November with our Reds to regions trip across Queensland. We travelled around the world. We worked hard in two pre-seasons. We’ve battled through a global pandemic. Many of our guys in this group have come through our pathway and club rugby – they’ve thrived and have grown as men during this year.
“We’ve reconnected with our state. They believe in us and we want to make them proud this weekend, plus achieve something together as a group. »
The Reds have twice traveled to Canberra and suffered heart-breaking losses, the latest of which was when Mack Hansen slotted a penalty after the full-time siren to seal a 22-20 win last month.
Brumbies (1-15): Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Murray Douglas, Cadeyrn Neville, Lachie McCaffrey, Will Miller, Pete Samu, Joe Powell, Noah Lolesio, Tom Wright, Irae Simone, Tevita Kuridrani, Andy Murihead, Tom Banks
Reserves: Connal McInerney, James Slipper, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Bayley Kuenzle, Solomone Kata
Queensland Reds (1-15): JP Smith, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou, Angus Blyth, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Liam Wright, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Filipo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Jock Campbell
Reserves: Josh Nasser, Harry Hoopert, Ruan Smith, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Angus Scott-Young, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Jack Hardy
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