Reds bank on 'X-factor'
Sydney - Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is convinced the Super Rugby champions will not miss inspirational flyhalf Quade Cooper too much when they begin the defence of their title later this month.
The mercurial Cooper and his halfback partner Will Genia were ever-present last year and played major roles in driving the Reds to a first title in the southern hemisphere's annual provincial championship.
Cooper capped a miserable World Cup, however, by damaging the cruciate ligament in his right knee during Australia's third place playoff against Wales and is likely to miss the first two months of the new season, which starts on February 24.
"We used 37 players to get the job done done last year so it wasn't like we were relying on one player," McKenzie told reporters at the Australian launch of the Super Rugby season on Thursday.
"No doubt we got great value out of Will and Quade ... but every team knows you've got to turn to the next guy and the guy after that, they're the guys that ultimately end up making a difference for you over the season."
Ben Lucas, starting fullback last year, and Mike Harris, who played at centre outside Cooper, are vying for the flyhalf spot, which will free up places in the side for other players to come through.
"We're quite excited about having a look at some of these guys," McKenzie added. "We've hired them for a reason and now we get a chance to get a look at them.
"They've got some great skills, different skills, we might have to modify things slightly but we're actually picking up strengths elsewhere.
"We get a little bit of the element of surprise. Everyone tells us in the newspaper every week that they're going to shut down Will and Quade. Well Quade's not there, so they've got to work on who they shut down now.
"The X-factor doesn't always have to reside in one player. We've some interesting players, we've got some good youngsters coming through so we'll give them the big stage and see what they've got."
Before the arrival of McKenzie in 2010, the Reds were strugglers and the former Wallabies prop said last year's victory over the Canterbury Crusaders was "a great achievement for a young team without much experience".
That said, he thought there was plenty of room for improvement this season.
"If you go back and have a look at the scorelines, we didn't smash teams, we just did enough on each night to give ourselves a chance to play in the final - and once you're in there, you have to do the business," he said.
"The beauty for us is that every guy that ran out there for us at the start of that game is still with us and we've got other good players coming on. So we're quite pleased with where we sit right.
"The question is how we front up, that's the interesting part."