The brave Queensland Reds dug deep before bowing 32-21 to the two-time champions from Fiji when Buildcorp Super Rugby Women’s launched at Ballymore Stadium Sunday.

An enthusiastic crowd roared for the plucky Reds when back-to-back fightback tries within five minutes closed the scores to 22-21 just past the hour mark.

The Fijian Drua were bigger across the park yet it didn’t stop last-line defender Lori Cramer or winger Caitlin Urwin from chopping down attackers 15kg heavier on occasions.

In the end, the Fijians were more clinical in finishing off their chances and it didn’t matter if it was from long range or a barging run over the top of a willing Reds defender.

Winger Merewairita Neivosa’s second try with time almost up settled things.

The day was a highlight for the six Reds players making debuts and none more so than 16-year-old Shalom Sauaso, still a Year 12 student at Ipswich State High School.

Her entry to the game paid off after an ankle injury grounded impressive centre Mel Wilks.

Sauaso stepped into first receiver off a scrum in the attacking 22. She powered onto the ball, cut inside, stepped and plunged over with three defenders in her wake at the 62-minute mark.

Teammates engulfed her because it was a show of something special in her longer-than-expected debut in Super W.

School friends and family in the grandstand wreathed her in lolly leis after the match, a show of celebration in Pasifika culture.

Flanker Carola Kreis looked every bit the picture of a hard-working openside flanker with hair and strapping tape everywhere, a reddening tag mark on the thigh and spent from workrate.

“We dug deep. We always knew what the Fijian girls would bring and there were plenty of smaller bodies making key tackles on bigger ones out there,” Reds captain Cecilia Smith said.

“Lori’s chat from fullback was excellent and you always know she’s going to make her cover tackles. Caitlin too defended really well and there were plenty of others.

“Overall, we just had to be more clinical in the attacking 22. We had to come away with more points from the chances we had. There is a lot we can take out of that performance to build on for our next game.

“I told Shalom to get in there (as first receiver) to have a run. We know what she can bring with a hard carry and she did.”

Flanker Jemma Bemrose played 80 minutes on debut. American prop Charli Jacoby, No.8 Doreen Narokete, reserve flanker Lucy Thorpe, reserve utility back Ava Wereta and Sauaso also made debuts.

Wilks made several strong runs during her shortened stint, lock Deni Ross tackled stoutly and worked hard at set piece time and hooker Tiarna Molloy scored a try and supported the ball well in general play.

Cramer produced an early 50-22 with her shrewd kicking game and halfback Sarah Dougherty kept up the accuracy of her pass for 80 minutes.

The scrum was on the backfoot for long periods but the Reds still found a way to hang in the contest. The maul was a real strength and the penalty try awarded in the second half was because a Fijian pulled down an inevitable surge to the tryline.

“There was a lot to like. We controlled the play for long periods, our maul was effective and we certainly put heart into our defence,” coach Grant Anderson said.

“It’s great to be into the season, be back at Ballymore and see a debutant like Shalom be a shining light making a difference in attack.”

Drua captain Karalaini Naisewa said her side’s ability to offload the football and constantly threaten the Reds’ line had stood out.

Her side is searching for a three-peat, having been champions in their first two seasons in the competition.

“Just our structure game, sticking to our structure and playing the Fijiana game – that is offloading and going forward,” she told Stan Sport.

“Thank you to all the supporters back at home who have been cheering for us and supporting us all the way.”

The Reds travel to Perth to play the Western Force in Round Two on Saturday.

Fijian Drua 32 – Tries: Merewairita Neivosa 2, Ana Korovata, Vani Va’aga Arei, Sulita Waisega, Teresia Tinanivalu, Conversion: Luisa Tisolo


Queensland Reds 21 – Tries: Tiarna Molloy, Shalom Sauaso, penalty try, Conversion: Lori Cramer 2

Half-time: 10-7 Fijian Drua.