Wright leads Reds to comeback victory
LIAM Wright came of age as a Reds leader on Saturday night with an inspiring try-saving tackle that turned a game and what is left of their Super Rugby season.
The Queenslanders celebrated a huge come-from-behind win from 17-0 down to topple the Bulls 41-17 at Suncorp Stadium and send their self-belief soaring.
No one was going to put a cork in the outpouring of pride after scoring 41 unanswered points even if the season was just hours away from being suspended for "the foreseeable future."
The cause might already have been lost five minutes from halftime when the Bulls were an arm's length from going ahead 22-7.
Wing dynamo Rosko Specman had already scored one try and looked certain to score another in the corner as gritty Isaac Lucas clung to his legs after herding him from the sideline.
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Wright swamped Specman around the torso and jolted him backwards.
Moments later, Wright was the breakdown pest when the Bulls gave away a penalty and the danger valve was released.
Just 22, Wright has wondered aloud this season whether he's always taken the right "lineout or penalty goal attempt" option and how he's handling the captaincy generally.
He answered all those questions in this one moment because he barked out a call for more from his men and got it.
Flanker Wright had made the first comeback statement with a pick-and-drive try.
Reds coach Brad Thorn saluted Wright's "commonsense and the respect he commands."
Only 7335 fans were in the stands because of the stay-at-home caution in this coronavirus climate but they were given a wonderful last memory of this season if this is to be it.
Just before halftime, a rush of quality off-loads linking Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Hamish Stewart, strong-running Harry Wilson and Scott Malolua put Lucas over for a super try.
The Reds made 21 offloads on the night to just four by the Bulls which reflects the transformation in the Reds' attacking style.
Halfback Malolua was quiet early but came alive either side of halftime before Tate McDermott came on for a good final 25 minutes.
The real tempo-lifter over the final quarter of the match was reserve flanker Fraser McReight.
He was all productive energy, excellent support as a ball-runner and was a constant headache for the tiring Bulls.
Wilson's hands let him down twice in the first half but the big No.8 was still in everything.
More concerning was what looked like medial ligament damage to his right knee which forced him off with more than 20 minutes to play.
Prop Taniela Tupou has stepped up for his young side. He played the full 80 minutes and no prop this season will make a sweeter, quicker pass than his to put Salakaia-Loto over in the minute after halftime.
Wright was delighted: "I'm really proud...we didn;t start well but we showed incredible fight."
He deflected any special nod for his tackle: 'Any of the boys in that situation would have done it."
Coach Brad Thorn said the Wright tackle was the game-changer.
"He's being humble but I thought it was a big turning point and it's good to win one of those key moments because we haven't been," Thorn said.
"He's a leader and highly respected."
Thorn admitted his mood at 17-0 down made him question all the hard work put in over the past three seasons.
"You pour your heart into it and, well, I just thought 'I don't need this'," Thorn said.
"We persevered, got our stuff together and just showed character."
Thorn said the big decision coming on whether to cancel the rest of the Super Rugby season boiled down to more than footy.
"Sport on the weekend doesn't compare to looking after people so it's whatever steps are needed to care for everyone, especially the elderly,' Thorn said.
Hooker Alex Mafi had an excellent game. His workrate was high, he plucked a long pass from James O'Connor to score his late try and he was an excellent linkman in attack.
His lineout throwing also improved but for a crooked throw late in the game. Likewise, the goalkicking because reinstated Bryce Hegarty kicked five-from-seven.
REDS 41 (A Mafi, I Lucas, L Wright, L Salakaia-Loto, T Tupou, H Hoopert tries; B Hegarty 4 con, pen goal) BULLS 17 (E Papier, R Specman, W Gallant tries; M Libbok con )