BRISBANE - Life without Wallabies five-eighth Quade Cooper was challenging enough for the Queensland Reds.
But watching his much-heralded replacement Ben Lucas limping off in the 20th minute of their knockout Super Rugby final ensured a mission improbable against a relentless Sharks at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
In the end, the gutsy Durban-based Sharks booked a semi-final showdown with fellow South African outfit the Stormers at Cape Town with a 30-17 win in front of a shellshocked 36,571-strong crowd.
However, the defending champions will always wonder what might have been.
The Queensland Rugby Union opted not to appeal Cooper's one-match suspension during the week but their frustration over that call paled in comparison to the angst experienced when Lucas was helped off midway through the first half. The Reds had full faith in Lucas who inspired an upset win over the Chiefs playing at No.10 in Cooper's absence earlier in the season — a victory that sparked their six-game winning run leading into the finals clash.