The Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) has today announced a two-match series between a Queensland Reds Development team and a Queensland President’s XV to provide further development opportunities for elite, non-contracted players in Queensland.
The Queensland Rugby Challenger series, which will be held at club venues in October, will see contracted Reds players take on the best of the StoreLocal Hospital Cup competition, with the series culminating in a tour to Japan.
Queensland will take on their sister-state club the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights on November 4 with spots in the travelling squad on offer following the two matches.
Reds General Manager of Professional Rugby Sam Cordingley said: “As a club, we are excited to travel to Japan and play our Japanese partner the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights as part of our 2023 preparations.
“It was unfortunate we had to postpone last year’s match due to COVID-19, but we thank the Wild Knights for their continued support to ensure this historic fixture could still take place.
“Just like Queensland teams did in the 70’s and 80’s – the Reds will tour once again in the off-season, with our time in Japan set to provide a valuable development opportunity for our squad and Queensland’s best developing players ahead of next year’s Super Rugby Pacific season.
“Given the significance and history surrounding the event, this will be a capped fixture which will afford a number of Queensland’s best amateur players the opportunity to receive a Queensland Reds Cap and number.”
Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights General Manager Hitoshi Iijima said: “We are very pleased to have a world-class Rugby team the Queensland Reds from Queensland Australia, a twin city of Saitama Prefecture, to Kumagaya Rugby Stadium to play this fixture.
“We would like to deeply thank the Queensland Reds, for making the decision to travel to Japan despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, we give our deepest gratitude to Saitama Prefecture, Kumagaya City, and all those involved for their support and cooperation.
“We hope this match will lead not only to the growth of the Wild Knights, but also to further friendship between the two cities and development of Rugby in Japan.”
The Queensland Rugby Challenger series is set to provide prospective Super Rugby players with the chance to test their ability at a level between club and professional Rugby.
The series will also be used to trial several law variations to increase ball in play time and improve the spectacle for fans.
In a throwback to the amateur era, teams will come together following each match, with speeches from captains and coaches, and acknowledgements to match officials and players of the match.
Staff will also get opportunity to test themselves at the next level, with the President’s XV to be chosen purely from the Hospital Cup talent pool on and off the field.
Reds Super W Head Coach Simon Craig (Easts) will lead the President’s XV coaching team, supported by Elwee Prinsloo (Wests) and Elton Berrange (UQ).
Cordingley said: “The Queensland Rugby Challenger series will further increase our connection between the amateur and professional games in Queensland.
“We’ve had a development gap for too long compared with other Rugby nations. These matches will afford the Reds squad more playing time together while at the same time providing opportunities for our best amateur Queensland players and coaches to be involved in representative Rugby.
“This series will provide a platform for innovation, which is difficult to trial during Super Rugby, as well as bringing back some of the points of difference our great game has has.
"The Challenger Series and Japan Tour is a starting point which we will aim to grow in future years.”
The President’s XV side will be selected following the QPR finals series, with the StoreLocal Hospital Cup Grand Final taking place at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday 18 September.
The subsequent tour match against the Wild Knights will be the inaugural fixture between the sides following the announcement of their bilateral alliance partnership in 2020.
The connection between the two teams will be further highlighted during the tour when the Reds and Wild Knights celebrate the 30th anniversary of their first match against each other in the Saitama Prefecture. The teams will play for the Saitama-Queensland Shield, named in honour of the relationship between the two Sister States.
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), plus Paul Carozza (current Reds Academy Head of Talent Identification) and their physiotherapist Cameron Lillicrap (current Reds Assistant coach) took on a Saitama XV side which featured the Wild Knights’ General Manager Hitoshi Iijima.
The Queensland Reds and Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights will continue to work proactively together to promote and contribute to the development of each team and region in both Queensland and Saitama Prefecture before-and-after November’s historic match.
It follows Panasonic shifting their home base to Saitama Prefecture located in the Greater Tokyo Area which shares a sister state relationship with Queensland.
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.