Aidan Toua will be dubbed an overnight success if he stars against the Brumbies in the Super Rugby opener but his rise to Reds fullback has been 12 months in the planning and three years in the making.
Reds coach Richard Graham first earmarked the talented back as a potential long-term resident in the Reds number 15 jumper a year ago while Graham was an assistant under Ewen McKenzie.
The 24-year-old was on the comeback trail from yet another injury. Busted knees and temperamental hamstrings have constrained him to just five games in three seasons at Ballymore. The body could never deliver the potential.
With two trials under his belt and 16 games of club rugby to his name last year, Toua is hoping this is the year to finally make his mark in the top tier.
He will no doubt be given a tough start against the Brumbies on Saturday night, who are certain to test his ability under the high ball. Toua hopes to give them something to think about in return.
His natural instinct is to run and anyone who has seen the Reds trials this season knows how dangerous he can be when he is given even an inch of open space.
But the former Australian schoolboy star comes with a solid left boot and game management skills that have his coach convinced he is far more than just an open field sprinter.
‘‘I’ve been practising my high balls all week. I expect to receive a lot of kick returns. We’ve got plans in place and guys back there to put them off a bit. I guess you’ll see that on Saturday,’’ Toua said.
‘‘I like to think I’ve got a nice trusty left foot. I whip it out when I need to. My first action is to run but in different situations, you need to do different things. I try to play on instinct.’’
After working with Reds medical staff on his running mechanics, Toua finally feels as if he has his body under control. He’s starting to read the signs, like when he felt his hamstrings tense after the trial win against the Chiefs in Toowoomba.
It was better to be safe than sorry before he returned late in the Reds loss to the Rebels. Immediately, he had defenders grasping at air in a cameo that surely made up Graham’s mind about his first round fullback.
‘‘He’s been around the program for a number of years. But he thinks well about the game and he has experience in the back three. He’s an intelligent guy,’’ Graham said.
‘‘He’s got a good understanding and has worked hard to improve all aspects of his game across the pre-season, including the physical aspects. He’ll give a good account of himself this weekend.
‘‘I had him in my mind for the past 12 months really, based on what I’d seen of him previously. The key to Aidan is to continue to work hard. And he’s doing that.’’
Toua has spent enough time cursing his luck in rehab and now wants to give something back to the Reds, who have persevered with him despite fleeting appearances on the park.
‘‘It has been pretty tough over the past few years. But 2014 has started off really well and I’m just trying to forget about all that. I’ll try to stay out of ladders and away from black cats,’’ Toua said.
‘‘It’s been a really long learning process. We’ve ticked quite a lot of boxes this pre-season. I’ve got a really good gauge of how my body reacts to different things.
‘‘I’ve had to build my patience. I won’t lie, it hasn’t been easy. But good things come to those who wait. It’s about capitalising on my opportunity this weekend.’’
Queensland Reds: Aidan Toua, Lachie Turner, Ben Tapuai, Mike Harris, Dom Shipperley, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Ed Quirk, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Greg Holmes, Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper. Res: James Hanson, Ben Daley, Jono Owen, Ed ODonoghue, Beau Robinson, Nick Frisby, Anthony Fainga’a, Chris Feauai-Sautia.