'Reds can win back-to-back titles'
THE Queensland country outpost of Theodore normally has a population of about 500. But on Saturday it will seem like a ghost town.
Most of the residents will make the 565km trek to Brisbane to watch their favourite son, Reds lock Rob Simmons, run out in the sudden-death Super Rugby final against the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium.
Despite missing last week's 32-16 win against arch enemies the Waratahs due to a corked knee he picked up against the Highlanders the previous week, Simmons said he was a certain starter against the South Africans.
He also said he had been bombarded by messages of good luck from people in his home town.
"I've had plenty of calls and messages from back home wishing me good luck - and heaps of people trying to get free tickets," he laughed. "I enjoyed growing up out there - everyone knows each other and the whole community gets right behind you."
If that wasn't enough, Simmons will have most of Queensland behind him too.
He wouldn't have it any other way after signing a two-year contract extension at the start of this year.
And Simmons said he believed the Reds could win back-to-back titles in 2012, despite losing star fly-half Quade Cooper to suspension from the Tahs game.
"We've used a lot of players in our squad this year, so we've got a real squad mentality about us where all the players feel part of our success," he said. "When you play alongside guys like James Horwill, Quade, Will Genia, Digby Ioane and Mike Harris, you enjoy your football.
"We built some momentum with six straight wins going into the semis and the challenge now is to carry that on."
Despite weighing in at 115kg and standing 200cm, Simmons won't have everything his own way against a Sharks second row that features Anton Bresler and Jandre Marais.
Bresler is 197cm and 106kg, while Marais is 198cm and 118kg.
The good news for Simmons and the Reds is that Springbok lock Pieter-Steph du Toit has been ruled out with an ankle injury, while two other Test stars, fullback Patrick Lambie (ankle) and inside centre Francois Steyn (ineligible for the finals), will also miss the clash.
But Simmons said South African sides never had a shortage of talented, aggressive forwards.
"They've got a big, physical pack so I'll enjoy myself," he said. "Their hooker, (Bismarck) du Plessis and the back row can force a lot of turnovers so we'll really need to concentrate."
He also said he was confident Ben Lucas would be a more than capable replacement for Cooper.
"Ben helps the forwards with our direction around the park ... he'll slot straight in," Simmons said.
All the Reds need now is a win, or it's going to be a very long trip home for the fans from Theodore.