The Spencer Jeans v Kalani Thomas joust at halfback on Saturday is just the sort of high-level contest that enlivens the StoreLocal Hospital Cup.
It’s a fascinating duel within a match of enormous importance in the countdown to resolving which four teams make next month’s semi-finals.
Jeans and his Bond University teammates have some nice momentum behind them after big wins over Norths (46-10) and Souths (47-23).
It will only count if they can knock off the resurgent University of Queensland in front of a supportive home crowd at Bond University this weekend.
In fifth spot on 43 points, there’s no room to trip up against second-placed UQ (48) or in the matches that follow against Brothers and Easts.
“We identified those two games against Norths and Souths as a spot in the season where we could really find ourselves and build some momentum,” Jeans said.
“That’s been massive now we are going into the last three matches with it all on the line.”
UQ have found some rhythm again in a four-game winning streak after some early season wobbles. Any trip up now can still be costly for the premiers with Bond, Sunnybank and GPS as opponents on the run home.
The red-haired Jeans, 21, and Thomas, 20, train together, refine individual skills together and encourage each other as squad-mates with the Queensland Reds.
On Saturday, the competitive halfbacks will be doing whatever it takes to get the better of each other for the benefit of their team.
“I’m really looking forward to it. Kalani and I spend a lot of time together at the Reds doing ‘extras’, doing gym together or watching video together,” Jeans said. “We both have the same aspirations in rugby. It’ll be good going toe-to-toe.
“He’s got a flairy little running game and he loves the short side so I know to keep an eye on him there.”
It won’t be the first time. Jeans tasted success when The Southport School beat Thomas and his Ipswich Grammar team in First XV days in 2018.
Jeans got another one up at Colts level for Bond in the finals when Thomas started out at Souths. Last year, Thomas enjoyed a win for UQ over Jeans.
Both Thomas and Jeans have developed nicely at the Reds this year with exposure to Super Rugby Pacific, the demand for consistency and getting a balance of slick passing, kicking and sniping.
Bond Uni always seem in a perpetual state of having to prove themselves, even after the impressive run to the preliminary final in 2020.
A late season loss to Wests in 2021 cost the Bullsharks a semi-final spot and that trip-up still haunts them.
“A few Brisbane clubs look at us as ‘that Gold Coast team’. We do want to prove ourselves because the hurt is still there from missing out last season when we were in a good position,” Jeans said.
“We see ourselves as a finals team. Like I said, we want to prove it.”
The Bullsharks have definitely added some backline firepower for the run home.
Free-running Fijian Drua back Tui Samusamuvodre is a dynamic addition after a shrewd club link was created when he played a trial while based at Lennox Head for his Super Rugby Pacific side.
He was integral to igniting one of the tries of the season last weekend against Souths. He spotted a counter-attacking chance when the Magpies failed to find touch off a penalty kick to touch. In a twinkling, Bond winger Hamish Roberts was scoring 80m downfield after the ball had gone through 10 sets of hands and two quick ruck recycles.
Those unstructured moments of brilliance away from standard patterns of play can change a game.
Roberts is another. At 21, the finisher made his debut against Norths and has three tries from two games. As importantly, he is a sure goalkicker.
“The tries haven’t exactly been the hardest. I think the goalkicking is why I’ve been selected,” the understated Roberts said.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition into first grade. There’s a really good atmosphere around the team, you train in great facilities and there’s a lot of common background with the number of TSS old boys in the team,” Roberts said.
The psychological science student at Bond University played at TSS with Jeans, lock Wilson Blyth, prop Zane Nonggorr and hooker George Blake during his 2018-19 stint in the First XV.
“There are older guys too like Joey Fittock. I remember being a kid in Year 7 or Year 8 watching his flashy footwork for the Firsts at TSS,” Jeans added.
“That common ground and connection is really good to have in a team.”