Reds skipper latest in school's production line
NEW Reds skipper Liam Wright always knew he was playing in a special schoolboys team beside Kalyn Ponga yet he now appreciates it as a once-in-a-generation line-up.
Wright's rise to the helm of the Queensland Reds is the latest honour accumulated by Churchie's star Class of 2014 which swept undefeated through the GPS rugby season.
Being thrust into the captaincy at 22 is a nod to the flanker's maturity because 1960s legend Dallas O'Neill, at 21, was one of the few picked to lead Queensland at a similar age.
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Wright had cause to ponder the success stories from the Class of 2014 when he recently bumped into former Churchie teammate Brodie Croft at Coles at Woolloongabba.
Croft, of course, is the recruit that the Brisbane Broncos hope can ignite some sharp direction and interplay from halfback during the NRL season.
"Really, the conversion rate on players from that Churchie team who turned pro in footy is ridiculous," Wright said.
Wright remembers Ponga's veering, roaming running magic for four tries in a big win over Brisbane Grammar (92-0).
"Others were the try-scoring machines in that team," Wright said with a laugh.
Croft was another. He showed his selfless team-first attitude by playing the whole season out of position on the wing and collecting a rush of tries.
"I had to follow Kalyn and try to clean out if he got tackled which was a pretty tough task when he's stepping eight people and running here and there," Wright said.
"The 2014 team had a reunion over a steak at the Breakky Creek last year so a few stories got told."
Just ponder this roll call from that 2014 Dream Team.
Wright and Angus Scott-Young are entrenched in the Reds backrow while flyhalf Mack Mason is in the NSW Waratahs squad.
Backrower Sam Wallis played off the bench in the Reds' recent trial in Dalby and prop Richie Asiata is fanning his professional rugby dreams with the Toronto Arrows in Major League Rugby in North America.
Origin star Ponga (North Queensland Cowboys and Newcastle Knights), Croft (Melbourne Storm and Broncos), Jaydn Su'A (Broncos and Souths) are building NRL careers.
Izaia Perese has tasted both codes, first as a Reds finisher and now as the tackle-busting winger who made his debut for the Broncos late last year after excelling for Redcliffe.
Backrower Harley Fox dabbled with Irish rugby province Connacht and halfback Harry Nucifora is a great club pick-up for Easts in Sydney after his Bond University exploits.
Wright's leadership skills with the Reds will be taxed to the full on the road over the next 10 days.
Picking up even one win against the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday night or the Jaguares in Buenos Aires a week later is much-needed to get the season rolling.
Leading the team in South Africa will be a little surreal for the forward who was born in Durban and wore a tiny Springboks jersey as a kid fan.
"Returning with a captain's armband is definitely not how I pictured it," Wright said.
The fierce pride he now feels in a maroon jersey has been a process - not something inherited from the cradle.
"I loved the Boks growing up so I was not a diehard Queenslander to start out," Wright said.
"The conversion started in the boarding house at Churchie.
"I watched that awesome Willy Genia try for the win in the (2011) Super Rugby final on TV with all the boarders.
"When I started to take rugby more seriously and guys around me began making Queensland teams it definitely changed my thinking.
"I'm incredibly proud and grateful to be wearing the Reds jersey and all it stands for."
Coach Brad Thorn was first impressed with Wright fronting up game after game in a position where rival 115kg forwards regularly try to brutally torpedo openside flankers off the ball.
His temperament and rugby intellect, during a positive interview around the captaincy, are other winning traits.
Wright was an OP1 student at Churchie. Just as he plays at flanker, he has impressively completed a business degree at the University of Queensland without fuss.
Two cameos off the bench last year gave him his first taste of the Wallabies and a lasting lesson from David Pocock before the master openside's Test retirement.
"Being in that Wallabies environment gave me a lot of confidence and a look at that mentality of the top guys, who apply themselves so each and every session you are getting better," Wright said.
"Poey is a master at the breakdown but he still practises those specific skills in every session."
This flanker is made of the Wright stuff for new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, who will start sorting a queue of contenders for backrow chances against Ireland in July.