The 2018 edition of the NRC is on the horizon, and both Queensland teams will be looking to feature when it gets down to the pointy end. While Brisbane City will be looking to improve, Queensland Country are aiming to go back-to-back.
In a laudable move, the Country squad has been bolstered with some members of the Country Heelers squad, hooker Jack Cook and outside back Will Gilbert as development players, in what should be a good experience for them.
With a new coach, and some squad changes, let’s take a look and see how the Country squad shapes up.
The performance of the Country squad last year is, in my opinion, what got Brad Thorn the Reds job. The youth, the grit, the never say die spirit of that team laid the foundation for a number of that team to work their way into regular roles with the Reds.
So with Brad Thorn now in the big chair, the job falls to Rod Seib, who coached Sunnybank for a number of years as well as being in Nick Stiles backroom with Brisbane City in 2014-15 prior to a year as City coach in 2016 that saw just two wins. Joining Seib will be Souths assistant coach Moses Raulini, in a combination that will hopefully be looking to build on 2017 rather than upturn the cart.
There are two things evident right across the squad, the youth and the spine of the 2017 side returning. While the forwards will presumably spend the majority of the campaign without Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda and Caleb Timu (Wallaby allocations), there is no shortage of cattle going around. The old men of the squad, Fred Burke and James Slipper are joined by Reds Harry Hoopert, Angus Blyth, Harry Hockings, Angus Scott-Young and Liam Wright, none of whom are older than 20.
Not being content with having this many young bucks in the squad, they have added 18 year olds Tom Kibble (GPS) and Harry Wilson (Brothers) into the backrow mix.
Again, the theme is consistency here, with returning players right across the backline. There will be some interesting little battles here, such as at half, where James Tuttle will be looking for some more minutes after ending the season on the outer at Ballymore. The centre spots perhaps look a little thin- Seib will be hoping Feauai-Sautia and Paia’aua stay fit, although Jordan Petaia’s late season cameo there gives some options.
Potential Starting Side:
1. Harry Hoopert 2. Alex Casey 3. Kirwin Sanday 4. Angus Blyth 5. Harry Hockings 6. Angus Scott-Young 7. Liam Wright 8. Tai Ford 9. Tate McDermott 10. Hamish Stewart 11. Filipo Daugunu 12. Duncan Paia’aua 13. Chris Feauai-Sautia 14. Jordan Petaia 15. Jock Campbell
All in all a pretty dangerous team with the option of moving Paia’aua to 10, Stewart to 15, Petaia into the centres and Perese onto the wing. Add James Slipper and others off the bench and it shapes up pretty well.
Travel is the theme of this years draw for Country. Even their home games are being played across Queensland in a laudable move. It will be interesting to see if this travel removes any advantage over last season, when they played home games predominantly in the SEQ corner.
After a Round One final rematch away against the Vikings, Country do not venture any further south than Tamworth the rest of the way. They take on the rising and Drua in Townsville and Mackay respectively then the dangerous Force outfit on the Gold Coast in round 4. Round 5 is the traditional Andy Purcell Cup clash against Brisbane City at Wests, then the Rays on the Gold Coast. Things are wrapped up against NSW Country at Tamworth.
This is really a pretty good draw, avoiding the long trips to Melbourne, Perth or Fiji is a massive boost.
A friendly draw and the stability in the playing squad should see Country very easily in the top 2 or 3. The only doubt is the coaching, and the approach Seib and Raulini take. Do they keep things as they were or do they start to tinker with their own pet plays. Wallaby call-ups will also come into play. You would imagine an injury or two might see Stewart, Petaia and others potentially on Cheika’s radar for the wider squad.
I hereby (probably foolishly) declare that it will be a Force v Country final, with whoever has the home field taking home the Toaster.
Props: Richie Asiata (Easts), Fred Burke (GPS), Harry Hoopert (Reds/Brothers), Kirwin Sanday (Easts), Jake Simeon (Souths), James Slipper (Reds/Bond), Taniela Tupou (Wallaby allocation Reds/Brothers)
Hookers: Alex Casey (Souths), Jack Cook (Country Development, Goondiwindi), Matt Faessler (Brothers), Efi Ma’afu (Wests)
Locks: Angus Blyth (Reds/Bond), Josh Fenner (Sunnybank), Harry Hockings (Reds/UQ), Rob Puli’uvea (Wests), Izack Rodda (Wallaby allocation Reds/Easts)
Backrow: Sunia Finefeuiaki (Souths), Tai Ford (Bond), Tom Kibble (GPS), Angus Scott-Young (Reds/UQ), Caleb Timu (Wallaby allocation Reds/Souths), Harry Wilson (Brothers), Liam Wright (Reds/Easts)
Scrumhalves: Tate McDermott (Reds/UQ), James Tuttle (Reds/GPS)
Flyhalves: Hamish Stewart (Reds/Bond), Teti Tela (Reds/Souths)
Centres: Daniel Boardman (Bond), Chris Feauai-Sautia (Reds/Souths), Tony Hunt (Norths), Duncan Paia’aua (Reds/Norths)
Outside Backs: Jock Campbell (UQ), Filipo Daugunu (Reds/Wests), Joey Fittock (Bond), Will Gilbert (Country Development, Goondiwindi), Patrick James (Brothers), Izaia Perese (Reds/Easts), Jordan Petaia (Reds/Wests)