Hunter Paisami made his case for the Wallabies’ No.12 jersey while Suliasi Vunivalu produced his first moment of Super Rugby AU magic as the Queensland Reds held out the Western Force 26-19.
The Reds (4-0) went to the top of standings thanks to the victory and notched a club record ninth-straight win at Suncorp Stadium in the process.
Paisami kicked and passed with confidence but it was his trademark running game on full display as he barged over for tries in the 15th and 51st minutes.
Despite the Reds’ hot start the Force stayed in the game, thanks in part to a mighty effort at scrum time by 37-year-old 150-gamer Greg Holmes.
Down 14-3, Feleti Kaitu’u found the line for the Force, who then had to settle for a penalty as they pushed for a second try before halftime.
A Jake McIntyre penalty put the visitors ahead 16-14 after the break before Paisami’s second try gave the Reds back the lead.
McIntyre then got things level at 19-19 after 56 minutes with his fourth penalty from four attempts before code-hopper Vunivalu came off his wing looking to make an impact.
The former Melbourne Storm winger plucked a tough pass, dummied then fended off the hapless fullback before throwing a confident cut-out ball for a Jock Campbell try.
It gave the Reds a seven-point lead, the Force giving away a penalty after the siren as they pressed the home side looking for a converted try to send the game into golden-try extra time.
Paisami emerged from the Super Rugby scrap heap to play for Australia last year, first as No.13 then inside centre after a Matt Toomua injury.
He’s been encouraged to develop his playmaking ability and with Toomua now fit again and also in terrific form it creates the right kind of headaches for Wallabies coach Dave Rennie ahead of France’s visit later this year.
Captain James O’Connor was annoyed by his side’s error rate but encouraged by Paisami’s development.
“I’m happy in essence we found a way to win, but to be honest that was pretty poor from us,” he told Channel Nine.
“We weren’t clinical, didn’t stick to our game plan and just so many drop balls.
“But he’s (Paisami) huge for us; Hunter is stepping up and becoming a world-class ballplayer.
“Last year everyone knew him for his huge hits and ball carries but he’s adding another dimension to his game.”
Force skipper Brynard Stander was frustrated at what he saw as a lost opportunity that followed a win and narrow loss from their previous two games.
“We had 100 per cent confidence we could do it so it’s tough to swallow,” he said.
“We’re right on that edge and tonight against the competition leaders I think we fronted up.”