Former Wallaby and Queensland captain and No 8 Mark Loane used to say that a rugby tour of New Zealand was an exercise in cultural deprivation.

Now, having seen the way your cricketers turned themselves out in last week's Twenty20 cricket match, it's apparent you lot have the capacity to laugh at yourselves, so I would hope there's not too much offence taken at Loaney's comment.

In truth, it was probably inspired by the experience of '70s and '80s Queensland tours where as many as five players sharing one room at rundown hotels was de rigeur in the preparation for confronting the likes of Canterbury, Otago and Manawatu.

Nevertheless, in spite of the accommodation and the lack of non-rugby activities Dr Loane appeared to crave, Queensland teams enjoyed their share of success.

Roll on to professional rugby and Super 12, and touring New Zealand for Queensland is far less an exercise in cultural deprivation and has become more one of victory deprivation.

The Reds have played 22 Super 12 fixtures in New Zealand since their first outing in Dunedin in 1996, when the Highlanders set the trend by thrashing them 57-17.

The overall record is one draw, four wins and 17 losses with Queensland yet to win a Super 12 match your side of the Tasman in the 21st century.

On the other hand, the statistics in South Africa are far less frightening.

So as Elton Flatley's team embark on season 2005, their focus is very firmly set on attempting to redress that balance.

The chance comes early, with away matches against the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs in rounds 2, 3 and 4.

In other words, by March 18 everyone will know whether Queensland are legitimate finals contenders this year or just the usual roadkill.

Coach Jeff Miller has been focussing on this three-week block ever since the Reds ended on the bottom half of last year's ladder.

Following his first season in charge, Miller decided the most important coaching aid he needed was a broom.

Despite all the nice language that is used when people move on, the bottom line is that nearly all of Miller's 2004 full-time staff were shown the door.

After four years as team manager, Anthony Herbert refused the offer of an alternative role in the Queensland Rugby Union, fitness coach Damian Mednis is with Munster in Ireland after Miller opted for a change in direction in that area, and assistant coach Adrian Thompson left of his own accord but may well have got in just before a don't-come-Monday from the coach.

The playing personnel, though, remain largely unchanged, and while that might not seem particularly positive given the mediocre results last year, Murphy's Law did come into play in 2004.

Every Super 12 team must expect through the course of a season to get at least three significant injuries to key players.

But when those three key players are your first-choice first five-eighth, followed by your second-choice first five and completed with your third-choice first five, you've got to start feeling like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn't there.

Who knows what injury disasters will befall teams this year, but Miller is hoping that the plans he had in 2004 of building a team strategy around a midfield combination of Julian Huxley in No 10 and Flatley in 12 will at least get the chance to prove its worth or otherwise.

It could be make-or-break year for Huxley, another player who ended up with the Brumbies after being unwanted at home in Sydney.

He moved to Brisbane in 2003 and won the Queensland Player of the Year after being handed starting roles as first five, second five and fullback.

He was groomed in last year's pre-season as the man to steer the Reds ship while wearing the number 10 but the first iceberg was struck in a trial when he broke his jaw.

A week out from his comeback he injured his knee at training.

Huxley salvaged something from his personal wreck of a season by getting some playing time with Northland. The Whangarei boys hardly set the world on fire, but they may have done the Reds a big favour by giving Huxley a taste of how New Zealanders approach their rugby.

Huxley is one of those very talented pains in the neck. He joined a golf club in Brisbane in December and was given a handicap of 16. Two months later he's off 8.

He's handy with a tennis racquet, plays the guitar and sings well, and has a lovely girlfriend. But he's yet to convince the powers-that-be in Australian rugby that he can cut the mustard at Super 12 level.

For the Reds to succeed, forwards such as Daniel Heenan, Nathan Sharpe and Nick Stiles have to impose themselves on oppositions.

A successful return from Ben Tune would be a bonus, but if, by season's end, Huxley produces performances that are in direct proportion to his talent, Queensland could well be depriving other teams of a spot in the final four.

VITAL STATS

Titles: 0

Finals: 0

Best finish: 1st round robin 1996 and 1999, beaten in both semifinals

Worst finish: 10th in 1997, 2004

Biggest win: 51-13 v Blues, 1996

Biggest loss: 48-3 v Crusaders, 1997

Backs

Chris Latham

Drew Mitchell

Peter Hynes

Wendell Sailor

Caleb Brown

Elton Flatley

Ben Tune

Steve Kefu

Junior Pelesasa

Lloyd Johansson

Julian Huxley

Brock James

Josh Valentine

Tim Atkinson

Nic Berry

Forwards

David Croft

Luke Doherty

Daniel Heenan

Tom McVerry

John Roe

Nathan Sharpe

Rudi Vedelago

Daniel Leo

Nick Stiles

Anthony Mathison

Rodney Blake

Pete Niumata

Sean Hardman

Tai McIsaac

Stephen Moore