Queensland Reds partner with Japanese powerhouse Panasonic Wild Knights

· Super Rugby - AU
by Reds Media Unit

In an exciting development for the future growth and alignment between Queensland and Japanese Rugby, the Queensland Reds have today announced an alliance relationship with Top League side the Panasonic Wild Knights.

It comes as Panasonic shift their home base to Saitama Prefecture located in the Greater Tokyo Area which shares a sister state relationship with Queensland. 

The Reds and Panasonic Wild Knights will work together to proactively promote and contribute to the development of each team and region in both Queensland and Saitama Prefecture.  

The bilateral alliance relationship between the Queensland Reds and Panasonic Wild Knights will see an international exchange program in place for players and staff, as well as youth development through Rugby academies, universities and high schools in the respective states. 

As part of the new relationship, the Reds will travel to Japan next year and play Panasonic in a pre-season match at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium in Saitama in December.

Reds General Manager of Professional Rugby Sam Cordingley said: “We are honoured to align with the Panasonic Wild Knights. 

“Our organisations have a strong connection through our history and our people. We look forward to continuing to explore ways to expand our relationship with our respective government’s support.”

Reds head coach Brad Thorn said: “It’s exciting to partner with a powerhouse club like Panasonic. 

“There’s a lot of good people and good things happening at Panasonic. We share similar values and cultures focused on care and connection. 

“This is a historic partnership and we’re looking forward to the opportunities and relationships created between the two clubs moving forward,” said Thorn. 

Panasonic Wild Knights General Manager Hitoshi Iijima said: "It is an honour and privilege that we have reached to an agreement with the Queensland Reds for our business alliance. 

"This Alliance Agreement intends not only the development of the two clubs but also to contribute to the development of our hometowns – Saitama Prefecture and the State of Queensland. 

"We would like to create the new model of making the social and regional contributions through the rugby activities by working with the local governments."

Panasonic Wild Knights head coach Robbie Deans said: "This is an exciting initiative that has genuine potential to be mutually beneficial for all parties involved. 

"I personally have been lucky enough to have dealt with all the entities through various roles over time. There exists a lot of like-minded people who have a strong sense of history, community and legacy. 

"We will not only enjoy activating these relationships but reflect on this as a significant moment in time," said Deans.

Saitama Prefecture was Queensland’s first sister state relationship formed in 1984 and remains one of the most active among the many currently still operating between the two countries. 

Like their respective Governments, Queensland and Panasonic also share a similar bond with a strong culture of community, connection and legacy instilled by head coaches Brad Thorn and Robbie Deans. 

The two Kiwi natives were at the Crusaders together when they won the 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008 Super Rugby titles with Deans as head coach and Thorn playing at lock.

There has also been a number of Queenslanders who have played for Panasonic – most notably former Reds and Wallabies utility back Berrick Barnes, Brisbane Boys’ College product Ben Gunter, former Queensland Country backrower Jack Cornelson, as well as Daniel Heenan who also played for the Reds, was an assistant coach for Brisbane City in last year’s National Rugby Championship (NRC) and recently assisted University of Queensland’s Premier Grade side to a Grand Final appearance.

Additionally, in 2016 and 2017 the Panasonic Wild Knights accepted an invitation to play in the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens, hosted by the QRU and held at Suncorp Stadium. They were the only Japanese team represented in the international carnival and were led by Heenan and included Barnes in their squad, which was coached by Deans.

The connection between the two teams will be further highlighted in next year’s pre-season fixture which will celebrate the 30th anniversary of when the Reds first played in the Prefecture. 

In 1991, a Queensland touring team captained by Michael Lynagh that included names like Tim Horan, Jason Little, John Eales, Brendan Nasser (father of current Reds frontrower Josh), Sam Scott-Young (father of current Reds backrower Angus), plus Paul Carozza (current Reds Academy Head of Talent Identification) and their physiotherapist Cameron Lillicrap (current Reds scrum coach) took on a Saitama XV side which featured Panasonic’s General Manager Hitoshi Iijima. 

In what is shaping as a historic year for Queensland and Panasonic, 2021 will also mark the 150th anniversary of Saitama Prefecture being established.