Horan, a Wallabies and Reds great, said there was deserved expectation on the Queenslanders and not just on Friday night against their arch-rivals. With a grand final their most recent benchmark and a young, progressive squad, Horan said the next step simply had to be the Super Rugby crown.
“This year has to be the year for the Reds. Brad Thorn, it’s his fourth year as head coach, first year he won six games, second year six games, last year, a disjointed season but went really well, nearly won the final. They’ve got to win the final to be a success, the Queensland Reds,” Horan said.
Thorn has impressed since taking charge at Ballymore, where he made rapid and substantial change and invested heavily in youthful players who would buy into his systems and culture. That all started to pay off last year and Horan said the coaches and players all knew the time was right to unleash the knockout blow in the domestic competition.
“They’ve got to deliver and they know that. The players know that and the coaches know that. They’ve had plenty of time to get their backline and pack right. Everyone is a star in their first year but it’s what you can deliver in the second year,” Horan said.
Jordan Petaia has endured a wretched run with injury in his brief career but the 20-year-old will be a central part of the Queensland backline, assuming he can finally get a consistent dose of top-level football.
He shapes as a key man for Dave Rennie at the next World Cup and Horan thinks he can be a factor at fullback if Thorn gives him a taste of the 15 jersey at some point of the season.
“I’d love to see Jordan Petaia play 15 [for the Reds] and they might use him there for a couple of matches I hope,” Horan said. “There’s two positions going into the  World Cup where we don’t have a lot of depth; one’s 15 and the other one is 10. We need to look at Jordan; we have some good centres, plenty of wingers but not a lot of fullbacks going around.
“[Dane] Haylett-Petty and [Tom] Banks had a chance last year and nobody grabbed it. Put him at No.13 for a couple of games, let him settle in, but I’d love to see him have a crack at 15 to see what he’s like with a bit more space.”
Far be it for Horan to lavish a Waratah with praise before a derby but he said he wanted to see NSW playmaker Will Harrison continue to improve, along with the Brumbies No.10 Noah Lolesio, with the pair having a golden chance to lock down a regular Wallaby start heading towards the 2023 World Cup in France.
“James [O’Connor] maybe has one more season after this one. This year and next year we need to make sure we can find a long-term No.10,” Horan said. “Will Harrison and Noah Lolesio really have to come on leaps and bounds this year to take us through to that next World Cup.”
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