RUGBY UNION: Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has thrown his support behind under-fire captain Stephen Moore, saying he'd be in his team if he was picking one for this weekend.
Moore, 34, is one of Australia's modern greats, having played 117 Tests since making his debut more than a decade ago, but a slow start to the year with the Reds has seen his place in the starting Test team come up for debate.
The veteran hooker returned to Queensland this season after eight years at the Brumbies, but he's struggled to make an immediate impact in a side desperately short of confidence.
The Reds have opted to rest Moore for today's important match against the Kings in Brisbane, after a taxing opening two months where he started in all but one match and gained the captaincy responsibilities following the season-ending injury to front-row partner James Slipper.
While acknowledging that his skipper was down slightly on form, Cheika was confident Moore would turn his season around.
"I think he knows his form (isn't where he would like it to be) and he knows it and that he will turn it around," Cheika said.
"He'll turn around his own form because I've seen him do it before and get himself up and get himself into contention.
"I don't need to pick the team now; I only need to think about what the team is going to be further on down the track and when the time comes I'm backing him to prove me right."
With the World Cup in Japan two-and-a-half years away, Moore will have a fight on his hands to retain his starting No.2 jersey.
Rising Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu, 24, has built on his shock call-up to the Test squad for last year's Spring Tour and is the form rake in Australia this season.
Tatafu Polota-Nau, capped 68 times for the Wallabies, is also impressing at the Force since leaving the Waratahs last season and is three years younger than Moore.
Asked whether Moore's lack of form this far out from the World Cup was concerning, Cheika said competition for places would only drive him further.
"We want to put Moorey in a competitive space with everybody else and I have no doubt that he will answer the competitive call," he said.
Quade Cooper will return against the Kings from his three-game suspension for a dangerous tackle, with teenage Queensland Under-20s player Hamish Stewart on the bench ahead of Jake McIntyre, who has been axed altogether after three starts in Cooper's position.
Centre Samu Kerevi will captain the side in Moore's absence, a huge honour for the excitable Fijian.
The surprise is young rookie Alex Mafi winning a start at hooker instead of Moore.
Karmichael Hunt makes his return from concussion at fullback.
Lock Lukhan Tui has earned his first start of the 2017 season, in place of Kane Douglas, who is on the bench.
The other change to the forward pack sees Japanese Test player Hendrik Tui return to starting blindside flanker, with Adam Korczyk moved to the reserves.
Nick Frisby, also demoted to club rugby last weekend, is back as reserve halfback.
with Jim Tucker
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