It's Australian conference crunch time and after months of deflecting pressure it's time for one-time champions the Queensland Reds to stand tall.

No more injuries for excuses and a team laden with Wallabies - if the Reds truly believe they're the best in Australia and better than the ACT Brumbies, it's time to prove it.

But it goes further than that. The Reds shouldn't be judged solely on where they finish in the Australian conference. They should be judged on whether they win the competition.

Sports teams hate getting ahead of themselves and are adamant they take it "one game at a time".

But it's almost impossible to avoid looking ahead as the Brumbies and Reds prepare for a blockbuster derby at Suncorp Stadium next weekend.

And what a difference 16 months makes.

Cast your mind back to February 2012 for just a moment.

The Reds are the defending champions, boast Wallabies talent in almost every position and are red-hot favourites to go back-to-back.

The Brumbies are unknown. They sacked two coaches in the 2011 season and expectations were low.

No one knows Jesse Mogg or where he's come from. No one expects them to win a game let alone be a finals contender.

But as a the season transpired, the teams were level. The Reds snatched a finals spot at the death because they recorded on extra win, but in reality they finished equal seventh with the Brumbies.

Fast forward to now. They're the same teams and the same spread of Wallabies talent but somehow the Reds are flying under the radar.

No one is putting pressure on them to perform. No one is highlighting that despite having some of the best players in Australia, they've under performed for almost two years.

It's important not to get seduced with where the Brumbies are now. It's easy to drift into a dreamland and for Brumbies fans to think they're on top of the world.

It's also easy to forget that a year ago the same bunch of Brumbies were no names.

But in reality, the Reds are still the top dogs in Australian rugby, and they should be with their talented roster and coaching staff.

Quade Cooper and Will Genia have played more Tests together than most of the Brumbies have played together at Super Rugby.

But while the Waikato Chiefs have made an easy transition to their title defence, something went wrong in Queensland. They faltered.

That's what makes next week's clash between the Brumbies and the Reds so massive.

At times there's a bias towards the Reds given their expansive style and their title-winning run in 2011.

Granted, they dominated the competition. But instead of carrying on with the same form, they've struggled to continue with the momentum.

The clash at Suncorp won't decide who wins the Australian conference. But it will give a clear indication to who's leading the race.

The Brumbies started their mission against the Otago Highlanders on Friday night and the Reds will face another big test against the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday night.

Coach Ewen McKenzie has bristled every time someone mentions the Brumbies have usurped the Reds as Australia's most powerful team.

If the Reds falter, there's no where for McKenzie to turn.

James Horwill's fit. Quade Cooper and Will Genia are starting to fire. Rising gun flanker Liam Gill continues to start there are Test players throughout the line-up.

They will be playing at their fortress in Brisbane against the inexperienced Brumbies.

It sets the tone for an explosive contest which will be a typical gutsy and grinding Australian derby.

So far the team's have largely mirrored each other.

They've had good wins against good teams, but the Reds lost to the Western Force.

The Brumbies got off to a blistering start, but they failed to beat competition newcomers the Southern Kings.

Niether team has excuses. The Reds are fit and the Brumbies' experience continues to grow.

And that's why it's crunch time. If the Reds want to stay perched on their throne, they can't afford to stumble against the Brumbies.