LIVEWIRE Tate McDermott will start at halfback for Queensland Country in Saturday’s National Rugby Championship grand final in Fiji because of the ruptured Achilles tendon suffered by James Tuttle.

The cruel news for Tuttle has ramifications way beyond this decider against the Fijian Drua in Lautoka because it ruins his campaign with the Queensland Reds next year as well.

If he follows the eight-month recovery when Sonny Bill Williams and James Slipper were floored by the same injury, Tuttle will miss the full Super Rugby season before a comeback in late June.

Even an optimistic six-month lay-off for lesser damage would wipe out the opening nine games which means the Reds are certain to scout for a short-term fill-in as back-up to McDermott and Moses Sorovi.

Replacing Tuttle, the most experienced player in NRC history with 39 games, is the only change to the Country line-up after he damaged the Achilles early in last weekend’s strong 45-24 semi-final win over the Western Force.

Eleven players from the match-day 23 still have the experience of beating the Canberra Vikings on the road in last year’s final, including wing weapon Filipo Daugunu, who has scored 16 tries in his influential 14-game NRC career.

“We have great respect for the Drua and they have the ability to score from anywhere on the field as we do,” Country coach Rod Seib said.

“The Fijian’s passion for rugby is well known around the world.

“Most elite rugby teams around the world are influenced by team members with Fijian heritage and our team is no different with Filipo Daugunu and Kirwan Sanday.”

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