Tate McDermott cops a heavy tackle from the Rebels at Suncorp Stadium last Friday. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Tate McDermott cops a heavy tackle from the Rebels at Suncorp Stadium last Friday. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Death of a mate led Tate to Reds

TATE McDermott's world spun into heartache, tears and a sporting career change after his childhood mate Matthew Barclay drowned at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships in 2012.

The Maroochydore surf club was McDermott's first love before he followed his instincts to develop into the Queensland Reds' sparky new halfback.

Cherished memories of the surf lifesaver mate who didn't get to live his sporting dream will be stored in McDermott's mind when he heads out tonight to take on Japan's Sunwolves at Suncorp Stadium.

McDermott was just 13 and watching the under-15 board race at Kurrawa when Barclay never came out of the challenging surf.

"Matty and I grew up together as real good mates on the boards and ski and our families would travel together to carnivals," McDermott said.

"I was watching his race from the beach that day and it's still very hard to believe.

"I'm close to his family, but that was kind of a turning point for me to give up surf lifesaving and concentrate on rugby."

McDermott's zeal to dart and probe on the field still has the freshness of his school days mucking around for hours with brother Flynn in a neighbour's front yard of Sunshine Coast town Mudjimba.

"Running out at No.9 for Queensland is what I dreamt of as a kid and it's a massive honour for me and those close to me," McDermott, 19, said.

His snipe-first mentality is his big strength and explains why Will Genia and former Wallaby Luke Burgess are his halfback role models.

"To me, sniping around rucks is what all the good No.9s do," McDermott said.

"I never played league but I watched a lot of Billy Slater and I just wanted to be a runner of the ball."

The four-way joust with James Tuttle, Ben Lucas and Moses Sorovi for halfback duties at the Reds this season has been an upbeat classroom.

"Bobby (Tuttle) has been big on game management with me, which is the aspect I most have to work on," McDermott said.

"Benny has smarts to make the right decisions and Mo's running game is electric."

Victory tonight would make it the Reds' first six-win season since 2013.

Small strides, maybe, for a team in 13th, but skipper Scott Higginbotham wants intensity to the season's final minute.

"Obviously, we've got to make amends (after) losing to the Sunwolves with them putting 60 on us (63-28 in May)," Higginbotham said.