National Rugby Championship

NRC Team of the Year

NRC Team of the Year

With the Grand Final in Tamworth this weekend what better time is there glance back at the 2016 Buildcorp NRC season and look at some of its best individual performers. So let’s get to it and name our Green and Gold Rugby NRC Team of the Year for 2016, on the way revealing our NRC Player of the Year, as voted by our GAGR correspondents who covered each match of this year’s tournament.

1 Pettowa Paraka – Brisbane City

McInnes Wilson Brisbane City vs Western Sydney Rams at Ballymore Stadium on 3rd of September in the 2016 NRC
Brisbane didn’t perform to the levels that NRC fans have come to expect this year. In fact they didn’t even have the scrum strength of years past either. But one player who continued to produce the goods was their big bullocking loose head prop. While the scrum rarely got bettered, Paraka’s work around the park was magnificent with powerful running, clever distribution, strong defence and an uncanny ability to snaffle a turnover, Pettowa is our #1 number one for 2016. Closest Contender: Paddy Ryan (Eagles)

2 Tolu Latu – NSW Country Eagles

Tolu Latu may well be the first player to force his way into the Wallaby squad on the back of his NRC form. While he was solid for the Tahs in ‘16, it was his work for the Eagles that had him promoted ahead of Andrew Ready to the Wallabies when Tatafu Polota-Nau was injured. And fair enough too. Latu brought the muscle to a team that thrived on playing a high-paced, skilful game. That’s not to say Latu couldn’t keep up as his running and off-load game was at the core of many an attacking Eagles’ play this year. Closest Contender: Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Rams)

3 David Lolohea – Western Sydney Rams

Monster prop, David Lolohea.
At 130kg and change, you wouldn’t expect the NRC would be the competition for this Mt Druitt product to shine. But just as the Rams caught many by surprise with their competitiveness and development throughout the tournament, so too did their man wearing 3. It’s fair to say that the Rams scrum held up against all comers this year, and often dominated with Lolohea leading the way on the tight head side. He also produced an all-round game that modern props must including, as with Paraka, a number of pressure relieving pilfers, together with a committed running game and some deft ball skills. Closest Contender: Taniela Tupou (QLD Country)

4 Ned Hanigan – NSW Country Eagles

NSWC Eagles Ned Hannigan scores CEPS16122 - Karen Watson (1)

Photo Credit: Karen Watson

The site of Hanigan’s golden locks flying around the rugby field has become one of the iconic images of this NRC. Hanigan has been in absolutely everything for the Eagles this year and is a significant factor in their reaching the Grand Final this weekend. Unfortunately Ned won’t be joining them due to an ankle injury in round 7, but it won’t take from the impact he has had this year. Hanigan has been a master in the lineout with as sure as hands as anyone going around. In general play he throws himself into anything on both sides of the ball whether is a free running ball carrier, or as a rugged defender. Closest Contender: Ross Haylett-Petty (Spirit)

5 Lukhan Tui – Brisbane City

20161002_0957_Lukhan Tui during NRC 2016 Rd6 on Oct 2 2016 in Perth, Australia. Photo- Johan Schmidt Photography

Photo- Johan Schmidt Photography

Tui was perhaps one of the surprise packets of the season in the NRC. Despite coming through the ‘rugby season’, albeit in a rather abbreviated format, and even making his Super Rugby debut this season, Tui caught many on the hop with his performances for Brisbane. It was a season he proved his wares against established and experienced players, and came out trumps. Rarely has Australian rugby seen such a large specimen who uses his physical advantage so effectively. With some rough edges to work on in his tackling, he never shirked from the workload and produced countless hit ups for his side, running for many metres. Closest Contender: Sam Jeffries (Rising)

6 Sam Figg – NSW Country Eagles

Sam Figg NSW Country v Rising
Sam Figg has decided to forgo a 7s contract to test his luck at snaffling a 15s contract and the 2016 NRC season could not have been a better showcase of his abilities. Figg started the season on the bench for the Eagles but through sheer weight of performance he soon found himself in the starting side. Relying heavily on his 7s fitness, Figg was a constant force for the Eagles producing an enviable work rate as well as an uncanny ability to make a break. The site of his curly do flying down the field was a regular one for NRC watchers and one typical of the impact Figg brought to the competition this year. Closest Contender: Tom Staniforth (Vikings)

7 Tupou Sopoaga – Western Sydney Rams

Tupou Sopoaga tries to shrug off a tackler.

Tupou Sopoaga tries to shrug off a tackler.

Tupou is one of those players the NRC is designed for. There’s no doubting his rugby credentials (former NZ schoolboy rugby star, brother of Lima) but most Aussies probably weren’t aware of him. After a couple of seasons battling away in the NRL, Sopoaga burst into the spotlight this season with a crucial role to play for the Rams. While not the Aussie styled on-baller, Sopoaga’s running and distribution game was a standout feature in the physical Rams pack. He made plenty of metres ball in hand, but also had the uncanny ability to keep the ball alive and keep the attacking pressure on. No word on a Super Rugby contract for next year, but let’s hope someone kept room for him in their squad. Closest Contender: Rowan Perry (Eagles)

8 Tyrone Viiga – Western Sydney Rams

WS Rams Tyrone Viiga RQC1627 - Karen Watson

Photo Credit: Karen Watson

Viiga finished the season as equal runner up in the GAGR NRC Player of the Year award and was the competition’s equal leading try scorer (with Jack Gordon). The former Cronulla Shark was a dominant force in a pack that out-muscled many of its highly regarded opponents. With a similar background to Sopoaga (in fact both played for Cook Islands in the 2013 rugby league World Cup), Viiga in the NRC was the line bending Number 8 that Australian Rugby supporters have been pining for of late. As for Sopoaga, there’s no word yet on a Super Rugby contract, but this one seems a lay down misere. He just has to be picked up and provided the opportunity to blossom at the next level. Closest Contender: Isi Naisarani (Brisbane)

9 Matt Lucas – Sydney Rays

Matt Lucas distributing the pill.

Matt Lucas distributing the pill.

I know Jake Gordon has got a lot of press from this NRC, and he has been fantastic, but in my eyes Matty Lucas is close to the MVP of the tournament and in fact was equal runner up (with Viiga) in the GAGR NRC Player of the Year. I say that because I think he was such a crucial part of the Rays’ success. No so much as a dominant player, but in terms of how he brought the team together both as a player and a captain. Lucas was just so central to the success that was the Rays’ year and his match control and intellect was on show week in week out. The crisp pass, the crafty left boot, the courageousness in defence, the leadership. Lucas was the full package at 9 this season and would be my captain for this team. Closest Contender: Jake Gordon (Eagles)

10 Jono Lance – Perth Spirit

Jono Lance loads up a left to right pass.
So dominant was Jono Lance this year for Perth that many felt the Spirit would fall in a lump this past weekend without him. As it eventuated Ian Prior stood up and put in a man of the match performance but that shouldn’t take from the dominance that was Lance this year. Lance is officially the GAGR Player of the NRC this year with a four point lead over Lucas and Viiga in 2nd place. Lance won the Buildcorp NRC Player of the Year award last year for the Eagles, and the switch of clubs failed to slow him down one bit as he started 2016 how he finished last year. Injury plagued him somewhat along the way, but whenever he played he was central to the success of the Spirit this season. Closest Contender: Angus Sinclair (Rays)

11 Reece Robinson – NSW Country Eagles

Reece R
Robinson took a little while to find his way in the NRC this year, although still showed plenty of class in those early encounters. But when the Eagles lost their fullback Andrew Kellaway in the second round, it was like Robinson knew he had to step up. From thereon we saw more involvement across the park and a greater confidence in his play. He even managed a match at fullback against Queensland Country, and he excelled in a losing team. The tournament has proven invaluable to his development as a player and all at Waratahs HQ should be thrilled with his progress. Closest Contender: Marcel Brache (Spirit)

12 Irae Simone – Sydney Rays

Irae Simone shapes to pass.

Simone goes down as probably the find of the tournament after a Shute Shield campaign that saw him win a premiership with Norths and take home the Rookie of the Year award. The former South Sydney Rabbitoh turned his back on a professional league career to prove himself in rugby in Australia and his form for Norths and now the Rays has resulted in a development contract with the Waratahs. His line bending (and breaking) abilities combined with a sublime off-load game proved a danger for any opposition centre combination. It’s the type of form that has many Tah fans mouth-watering at the prospect of a potent centre combination with Israel Folau next year. Closest Contender: Duncan Paia’aua (QLD Country)

13 Izaia Perese – Queensland Country

QLDC's Izaia Perese on the run PQC1650 - Karen Watson

Photo Credit: Karen Watson

No player beat more defenders in this year’s NRC than Perese did for QLD Country. That’s despite him missing two matches with injury and starting a third off the bench. It’s a remarkable statistic but one that pretty well encapsulate the season he produced. Perese had the type of season that only Samu Kerevi has had in the past and it has Queensland, and Australian, supporters a tad excited. It didn’t matter if it was running out wide, or taking on the pack, Perese was bloody hard to stop. He also put on some massive hits in defence meaning he’s no target out wide himself. Closest Contender: Bill Meakes (Spirit)

14 Harry Jones – Sydney Rays

Harry Jones prepares to fend Jono Lance.
Jones has been an NRC stand out for a few years now, despite switching between a few different clubs. As you’d hope to see it was his maturity that stood out this year and you would hope that recognition, via a Super Rugby opportunity (or Aussie 7s), would come before too long. A regular on the wing in all but one Rays game this season, Jones proved himself more than just a finisher by creating opportunities for team mates as well. That’s not to deflect from his own finishing abilities, as we saw firsthand with a brilliant try in the semi-final on the weekend. Closest Contender: Tom English (Rising)

15 Tom Banks – Queeensland Country

Tom Banks switching on the afterburners.

It does seem a little odd to have two players from the bottom placed team in this Team of the Year, let alone both in the backline. But QLD Country’s attacking play was never in question (they made the most clean breaks and ran for most metres than any other team). Banks was a large chunk of that success and was a constant threat from the back for his team. He led the league for metres made and brought back memories of Chris Latham with his ability to effectively chime into the backline. He also produced a number of vital try-savers in cover as well. Closest Contender: Manihera Eden (Spirit)

Cover photo credit: Credit ARU Media / Stu Walmsley
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