'Money time': Reds out to spoil Aaron Smith's party
Liam Wright is tipping Harry Wilson's return to the Queensland Reds' starting line-up will help spoil the Highlanders' Aaron Smith farewell party in Dunedin.
Wilson, Super Rugby Pacific's most penetrating ball-runner, was used off the bench in the side's last two games.
He still had an impact, scrambling in defence as the Reds notched a historic win over the Chiefs in New Zealand, before scoring a try in a deflating loss to the Blues.
He'll resume his backrow partnership with long-time mate Wright at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday, when the traditionally rowdy crowd will send off Japan-bound All Blacks halfback great Smith after 13 seasons.
The ninth-placed Highlanders (19 points) are four points behind the seventh-placed Reds entering the penultimate round.
They could draw level with them and jump the Western Force (eighth, 22 points) into the finals picture if results go their way this weekend.
A loss would effectively end their season though and keep the Reds kicking ahead of a final-round clash with the Drua (10th, 17th points) in Fiji.
"It's money time now," Wright said.
"Plenty of reasons for them to play, a lot of good reasons for us to go out and try and spoil the party."
Wilson has averaged 11 carries over the gain line per 80 minutes this season, more than any other player in the competition.
"He's pumped ... the finer details of his game, they've always been there, but (he's now) understanding the importance of how big a role he can play when he does his role really well," Wright said of Wilson.
"He's such a good person to have next to you and thrives playing in New Zealand."
The Reds have been heavily reliant on Wallabies' World Cup hope Wilson this season, but found other avenues in a win over the ladder-leading Chiefs that broke a 10-year drought in New Zealand.
"It gave us the belief that when we play the right way ... good things can go our way," Wright said.
"It was nice to not let a close game slip; it shows what we can do and that's what it's going to take tomorrow."
The Highlanders have won their last five games against the Reds but have not won back-to-back home games since June 2021.