And then there were four. It’s been a fairly widely held belief that this has been the highest quality NRC since inception, and the quality shows no sign of abating this weekend. Despite the closeness of the competition, there’s no denying the top three teams were the best performers of the competition this last seven weeks.
The Melbourne Rising have snuck into fourth sport despite losses in their last two games, holding off a largely disappointing Vikings outfit and a fast finishing Rams. Oh what the Rams could have achieved with another couple of more weeks of preparation.
With the finals in Newcastle and Sydney this weekend, it’s symbolic of the greater focus on the NRC that has come from many within NSW Rugby, including the Waratahs. While the Rays and Eagles have only dropped one game each this season, be assured these semi-finals results are far from assured.
NSW COUNTRY EAGLES v MELBOURNE RISING (Live of Fox Sports 2)
SATURDAY 15 OCTOBER AT SPORTSGROUND No.2 (NEWCASTLE). KICK-OFF 3:00PM (LOCAL TIME)
REASONS NOT TO MISS THE MATCH:
- While the NRC is most definitely about providing developing opportunities for club players, fringe Super Rugby players, and developing Super Rugby players, it’s always great to see the Wallabies get a run as well. The Eagles will off-set the loss of Ned Hannigan, who injured his ankle in the 2nd last round, with Tom Robertson and Tolu Latu. The Rising, meanwhile, have picked recent test debutant Sefa Naivalu in an attack heavy backline while hooker James Hanson has been named on the bench (whether he stays there we will wait and see).
- There’s been a fair bit of footy played since these two teams faced off back in Round 3 in front of a large Tamworth crowd. The Eagles won on that occasion, 32-30, on the back of a dominant first half leading 32-8 at the break. As you can see, it was a different story in the second half when the Rising stormed back into contention and were pressuring the Eagles’ line hard at the close before giving away a penalty to grant NSW Country the win. The game was one of skill and intensity and we can only hope the semi-final in Newcastle is of similar ilk.
- There’s some great one on one match ups (whether they actually ever ‘match up’ is irrelevant) in this game, with a couple of stand outs. Young Tom Robertson re-joins the Eagles on a high having just returned from his first Wallaby tour. Up against him in the scrum will be the veteran Toby Smith whose position Robertson took in that Wallaby squad. A little further out we have Reece Robinson up against Sefa Naivalu. Naivalu is another returning Wallaby, albeit one probably a little sick of just holding tackle bags. Meanwhile Robinson has been in the rugby form of his life and has been killing it at the end of the Eagles’ backline.
NSW COUNTRY EAGLES:
1 Paddy Ryan (c), 2 Tolu Latu, 3 Tom Robertson, 4 Rohan O’Regan, 5 Tim Buchanan, 6 Sam Figg, 7 Rowan Perry, 8 Sam Ward, 9 Jake Gordon, 10 Andrew Deegan, 11 Alex Newsome, 12 Kyle Godwin, 13 David Horwitz, 14 Reece Robinson, 15 Andrew Kellaway.
Reserves: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Jed Gillespie, 18 Sam Needs, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Mark Baldwin, 22 Tayler Adams, 23 Angus Roberts
Form: W- W – W – W – W – L – W
2014- lost to Brisbane City 26-32 (Gosford)
2015 – did not qualify
1 Toby Smith, 2 Pat Leafa 3 Tyrel Lomax, 4 Sam Jeffries, 5 Alex Toolis, 6 Ikapote Tupai, 7 Jordy Reid, 8 Colby Fainga’a, 9 Mick Snowden, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 11 Jonah Placid, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 13 Tom English, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 15 Dom Shipperley.
Reserves: 16 James Hanson, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Rob Valetini, 20 Jordan Uelese, 21 Keisuke Yamada, 22 Taiso Silafai-Leaana, 23 Ah-Mu Tuimalealiifano.
Form: L – W – L – W – W – L – L
2014 – lost to Perth Spirit 29-45 (Melbourne)
2015 – lost to Canberra Vikings 34-50 (Canberra)
TIP: I have a fear the Eagles’ form is slipping while this Rising side has plenty of weapons. Consistency of combination should count though. Eagles by 2
SYDNEY RAYS v PERTH SPIRIT (Live of Fox Sports 2)
SUNDAY 16 OCTOBER AT PITTWATER PARK (SYDNEY). KICK-OFF 3:00PM (LOCAL TIME)
Reasons not to miss the match:
- No sign of the mooted return of Scott Fardy in Rays colours this weekend, but it would have been a brave man to drop Jack Dempsey given the young Waratah backrower’s recent form. Consistency remains key for the Rays as Matt Lucas and Damien Fitzpatrick return to the starting side after coming off the bench last week. Jono Lance out for the Spirit is a massive blow but fortunately they can off-set his loss with the return of the brilliant Luke Morahan at fullback.
- Both teams will be hoping for clear skies on Sunday afternoon as their last encounter, in Round 2 at North Sydney Oval, was played in torrential rain. While it was tight at half time (8-6 to the Spirit), a Matt Lucas inspired Rays put on the points in the second half to win 28-8. It was the game that stamped the Rays class on this tournament while the Spirit were not terrible but struggled with the conditions. A dry track will please them.
- There’s plenty of talent across the park in both teams, but hold on to your hat when it comes to the battle of the centres. For the Rays, Irae Simone has been a revelation and one of the stars of the tournament while Con Foley, outside him, has perhaps snuck under the radar. Foley has played wonderful rugby since returning from Rio and made the 13 jersey his own. He’ll have a wonderful encounter with Billy Meakes, who has been a Spirit stand out and LOVES a physical battle. Inside Meakes will be former Wallaby Ben Tapuai who has been very good this season and brings a rugby brain that will help cover Lance’s loss.
1. Ezra Luxton, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 3. Angus Ta’avao, 4. Connor Vest, 5. James Brown, 6. Jack Dempsey, 7. Chris Alcock, 8. Michael Smith, 9. Matt Lucas (c), 10. Angus Sinclair, 11. Harry Jones, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Con Foley, 14. Lochie Creagh, 15. Johnathan Malo/Josh Turner.
Reserves: 16. James Hilterbrand, 17. Rory O’Connor, 18. Lawrence Hunting/Alain Miriallakis, 19. Adrian Hall, 20. Harry Bergelin, 21. Dewet Roos, 22. Sam Lane, 23. Jonathan Malo/Seb Wileman/Richard Woolf/Dennis Pili-Gaitau.
Form: W – W – W – L – W – W – W
2014 – did not qualify
2015 – did not qualify
1. Pek Cowan, 2. Heath Tessmann (c), 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Kieran Stringer, 5. Onehunga Havili, 6. Ross Haylett-Petty, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Brynard Stander, 9. Ryan Louwrens, 10. Ian Prior, 11. Semisi Masierewa, 12. Ben Tapuai, 13. Billy Meakes, 14. Marcel Brache, 15. Luke Morahan
Reserves: 16. Anaru Rangi, 17. Laione Mulikihaamea, 18. Shambeckler Vui, 19. Grayson Knapp, 20. Russell Burgess, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. AJ Alatimu, 23. Eric Vasukicakau.
Form: W – L – W – W – L – W – W
2014 – defeated Melbourne Rising 45-29 (Melbourne) Semi Final
2014 – lost to Brisbane City 26-37 (Brisbane) Final
2015 – did not qualify
TIP: The Spirit pack was massive last week but Lance is a massive loss. The Rays have upped their game recently and it should be enough to see them through. Rays by 4