The ACT Brumbies have laid down a challenge to the Queensland Reds after the visitors added firepower to their bench in a bid to match them on the home stretch.
Reds coach Brad Thorn has named boom youngster Jordan Petaia on the bench alongside scrumhalf Tate McDermott and flanker Fraser McReight for the top of the table clash.
It suggests the Reds could be banking on a fast finish in the hope of running down the Brumbies in the closing stages of their Super Rugby AU clash at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has made one change to his starting side with lock Darcy Swain returning to the XV in place of Murray Douglas, who has been rotated out. Tom Ross replaces Harry Lloyd on the bench while Tom Cusack returns in place of Ben Hyne.
Swain missed the Brumbies' shutout win over the Western Force but returns to partner emerging talent Nick Frost in the second row.
MORE BRUMBIES NEWS
But the fate of the ladder leaders could instead rest in the hands of players like Issak Fines, Andy Muirhead and James Slipper as the Brumbies edge closer towards a home final.
The Brumbies have shown they are up to the task if the Reds come home with a wet sail - late tries sealed the deal against Melbourne and NSW earlier this season, while their defence held the Western Force to zero last week.
"McDermott and McReight, they'll bring some challenges in the last 25 minutes which we will be aware of," McKellar said.
"We're pretty confident in our own finishers and our own conditioning levels. We finished well against the Tahs and did the same last week. Certainly a couple of threats coming off the bench.
"They're a good side. They've got plenty of caps in there now. They're physical. We know there is a big challenge up front there but it's something we get excited about.
"They've got plenty of talent across the board. Petaia is back, he's a good young player who needs a bit of luck now I suppose."
The Brumbies sit four points clear of the second-placed Reds on the competition ladder, with their highly anticipated showdown set to mark the halfway point of the 10-round season.
While both sides will be banking on a sprinkling of replacements to bring it home, Australian rugby's premier forward packs will go head to head to set the tone.
The Brumbies are spearheaded by an all-Wallaby front-row in captain Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga'a, Scott Sio and replacement Slipper.
The Reds pose perhaps their toughest test of the season after they took steps forward against the Force following an indifferent start to the year.
"They've got a good scrum, we see opportunity there as well. It's just about individually making sure you do your role within that unit," McKellar said.
"The scrum is a big part of how the Reds play, they'll scrum for penalty and get into your end of the field and put you under pressure with their power runners.
"It's an area we focus on every week and understand it is a good challenge for us this week. I know Sio, Folau, Al, Slips and Rossy are all really keen and excited about it."
SUPER RUGBY AU ROUND FIVE
Saturday: ACT Brumbies v Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium, 7.15pm.
Brumbies squad: 1. Scott Sio, 2. Folau Fainga'a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa (c), 4. Darcy Swain, 5. Nick Frost, 6. Rob Valetini, 7. Will Miller, 8. Pete Samu, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Bayley Kuenzle, 11. Tom Wright, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Solomone Kata, 15. Tom Banks. Replacements: Connal McInerney, 17. James Slipper, 18. Tom Ross, 19. Tom Cusack, 20. Lachlan McCaffrey, 21. Issak Fines, 22. Mack Hansen, 23. Andy Muirhead.
Reds squad: 1. Dane Zander, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3. Taniela Tupou, 4. Angus Blyth, 5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 6. Angus Scott-Young, 7. Liam Wright (c), 8. Harry Wilson, 9. Scott Malolua, 10. James O'Connor, 11. Filipo Daugunu, 12. Hamish Stewart, 13. Hunter Paisami, 14. Chris Feauai-Sautia, 15. Jock Campbell. Replacements: 16. Alex Mafi, 17. Feao Fotuaika, 18. Jack Straker, 19. Ryan Smith, 20. Fraser McReight, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. Bryce Hegarty, 23. Jordan Petaia.