Harris gets his chance to show Deans as SBW awaits
He sees red … Queensland's Mike Harris tries to elude David Pocock of the Western Force. Harris marks Sonny Bill Williams in the centres as the Reds host the table-topping Chiefs at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium tomorrow. Photo: Getty Images
MIKE HARRIS finally gets an opportunity to confront the Sonny Bill Williams phenomenon head on as the Wallabies hopeful from North Harbour continues auditioning for an inside-back berth for the June internationals by marking up against one of New Zealand's finest.
Since returning from a hamstring injury against the Stormers on April 20, the 23-year-old utility has confronted Ma'a Nonu and Daniel Carter in successive rounds - and Williams looms as the Super Rugby-leading Chiefs take on the defending champions at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow.
Harris missed the regular-season win over the Crusaders in Brisbane last year and was still in rehab when the Queensland Reds beat Richie McCaw's men in the title decider.
''It's pretty exciting for me, it's a challenge I'm looking forward to,'' said Harris, who will try and form a midfield blockade with outside-centre Anthony Faingaa, another key player back to full fitness.
Ewen McKenzie's back line successfully shut down the Crusaders' dynamic duo of Williams and Robbie Fruean last year - then-fullback Ben Lucas, defending at No.10 for Quade Cooper, set the tone on May 29 when he cut the All Blacks star down the first time he carried the ball.
Ben Tapuai, now sidelined with a broken collarbone, and Faingaa also cramped the Crusaders' style that night and again in the final.
And Harris hopes history repeats when he and Faingaa seek to replicate the defensive effort that helped keep the Crusaders tryless in Christchurch for the first time since 2000 last weekend.
There is no coincidence that the Reds' defensive system has been upgraded by the return of Faingaa, who started last weekend for the first time since round one, while goalkicker Harris has always been regarded as a reliable tackler.
''Anthony and myself have a good combination. We pride ourselves on shutting down those types of players,'' said Harris, referring to the obstacles posed by Williams and centre partner Richard Kahui.
Williams looms large over any opposition but Harris, who crossed the Tasman last year after being consistently overlooked by the Blues, and his teammates said it would be folly to neglect the threats posed by Kahui, Aaron Cruden and wing Lelia Masaga.
''Cruden's their playmaker. He's the one that controls the game and pulls the strings,'' said Reds and Wallabies halfback Will Genia.
''There was a big deal made about Sonny when we played the Crusaders last year but all you have to do is tackle low and make sure you do your best to stop the offload, and I guess you nullify that threat.''
If Harris, who is eligible for the Wallabies through an Australian-born grandmother, can follow those instructions his prospects of being involved in the season-opening Test against Scotland on June 5 will be enhanced. ''I was hearing positive things last year, so hopefully I can have three really good games [before Scotland],'' he said.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans will rely heavily on Reds and Western Force players for the one-off Test because they have a bye before Super Rugby takes a break.
There is also only a four-day turnaround before the opening match of a three-Test series against Wales, where the top team will be picked.
Meanwhile, the Reds welcome back loose-head prop Ben Daley and openside breakaway Beau Robinson, who is on the bench, after the pair missed the trip to Christchurch with minor hamstring and leg injuries. Greg Holmes drops to the reserves, while back-up prop Albert Anae and Wallabies No.8 Radike Samo revert to club rugby.
Otherwise, McKenzie has named a settled squad, a reason he is confident they can climb the overall ladder from ninth.