2017 NRC Grand Final Preview - Green and Gold Rugby
National Rugby Championship

2017 NRC Grand Final Preview

2017 NRC Grand Final Preview

So the 2017 NRC season will finish the way it started as Queensland Country make their way to Canberra for a clash with the Vikings.  Way back then the Vikings came out on top (match report here) in a tight one and they continued on to finish the season on top as well, claiming the Minor Premiership with a last round win over the Greater Sydney Rams. Meanwhile Queensland Country would use that loss as inspiration to go on an undefeated run right up until the last round where an after the siren loss to the Perth Spirit saw them relinquish top spot to the Vikings.

As it stands there is no denying these have been the best two teams in the competition and it shapes to be a deserving Grand Final as the gates will be flung open for free entry in what should surely encourage a strong home crowd advantage to the Vikings.

Key Match Ups

Inspiration from the Front

When Tom Cusack and Duncan Paia’aua were announced as captains of their respective sides earlier this year, there was a degree of surprise in the response. Having spent time with the Aussie 7s team, Cusack was back in Canberra and seemingly still yet to make a real strong case for Super Rugby time with the Brumbies. Meanwhile Paia’aua was young and a, seemingly, quiet on-field personality rather than the strong personality normality associated with leadership.

In hindsight you could not have asked for two better leaders of their sides. Both players have demonstrated career best form this NRC, each sitting atop their team’s try scoring list. Cusack has lead from the front, never far from the action whether it be on attack or in defence. His abrasive and no-nonsense seemed to lift the performances of rookies (ala Folau Faingaa) and veterans (James Dargaville) alike.

Paia’aua has been somewhat the opposite. He has provided flashes of brilliance without a doubt, but it has been his calm and composed surety so needed in a team chock full of youth and talent. At times the vision Paia’aua has demonstrated has made it seem like he was a man playing with boys while his hand and footwork have left many an opposition player in their wake.

After the coaches, Tim Sampson and Brad Thorn, have had their say it will be largely up to Cusack and Paia’aua to ensure their team remains focussed and sticks to the game plan. Whomever delivers on that, with perhaps the odd piece of individual class, can go a long way to securing victory.

Duncan Paia'aua evades the tackle of Alex Newsome

Duncan Paia’aua evades another tackle.

Backrow Bruisers

Along with the Perth Spirit’s Isi Naisarani’s, Rob Valetini and Caleb Timu enter this match as two of the most effective ball runners in the NRC this season.  Valetini, stunningly just 19 years old, made his first start of the season in Round 2 and has been outstanding ever since bashing opponents when he had the ball or when they did. A strong candidate for NRC Player of the Year (along with Paia’aua), Valetini must have pushed hard for a “Development” spot in the current Wallaby squad.

Timu is more focussed on securing a Reds contract, rather than a Wallaby spot, and has built his season steadily to be peaking in these last few rounds. Statistically both are very close to each other with Valetini having run for 264m from 96 carries (for an average of 2.75m per carry) while Timu has 261m from 78 (3.35m). Timu’s off-load game is a particular strength while his work from the back of a pretty strong Country scrum has saw him reap some easy tries of late.

Rob Valetini

Rob Valetini in space!

Stat Attack:

Queensland Country, statistically, were the best attacking team in the competition this year, topping the log in terms of ‘metres per carry’, ‘clean breaks per carry’ and ‘defenders beaten per carry’. The Vikings, while having remarkably scored one more try than Country this year, sit at the other end of these respective tables. It perhaps shows Queensland’s greater propensity to attack from anywhere in the field while Canberra perhaps relied more on continuity and possession to gain territory (Queensland kicked way more than Canberra this season).

Defensively, the Vikings lead the league in making the most tackles. All up they made 1216 tackles (topping the Drua with 1160 and Queensland with 1138). In the end, however, Canberra’s success rate of 82.89% was matched by Queensland’s (82.76%) meaning little is between the sides there.

Discipline, however, is more clear cut with the Vikings far and away superior than Queensland Country. The visitors will arrive in town having conceded more penalties than any other Australian side.  Perhaps more stark is the difference in yellow cards with QLD Country again atop the domestic ladder (Fiji Drua giving away the most through the season) with seven yellow cards. In comparison the Vikings gave away just a single yellow card.

Stats courtesy of rugby.com.au.


Canberra Vikings:

1. Faalelei Sione 2. Folau Faingaa 3. Les Leuluailii-Makin 4. Dean Oakman-Hunt 5. Darcy Swain 6. Rob Valetini 7. Tom Cusack [c] 8. Lolo Fakaosiliea 9. Ryan Lonergan 10. Wharenui Hawera 11. Andrew Muirhead 12. James Dargaville 13. Len Ikitau 14. Ben Johnston 15. Tom Banks

16. Robbie Abel 17. Harry Lloyd 18. Max Bode 19. Michael Oakman-Hunt 20. Angus Allen 21. Pedro Rolando 22. Liam Moseley 23. Lausii Taliauli

Queensland Country:

1 Richie Asiata, 2 Alex Mafi, 3, Taniela Tupou, 4 Angus Blyth, 5 Harry Hockings, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 7 Tai Ford, 8 Caleb Timu, 9 James Tuttle, 10 Hamish Stewart, 11 Eto Nabuli, 12 Duncan Paia’aua [c], 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 15 Patrick James

16 Alex Casey, 17 Gareth Ryan, 18 Gavin Luka, 19, Phil Potgieter 20 Ted Postal, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Teti Tela, 23 Tony Hunt


We talked about this on the special NRC Podcast this week. This game is bloody hard to tip. In the end home ground advantage leans things in favour of the Vikings. More significantly, though, is Canberra’s greater ‘killer instinct’ across most of their games this year. It’s vital come finals time. Vikings by 3.

  • Jack

    Thanks for the write up Reg. Should be a cracker. The discipline stats are concerning though, it would be a shame to see the match descend into a penalty / card fest. Hopefully the QC boys can keep their heads cool for the duration. Country for the win, but she’ll be tight.

  • Brumby Runner

    Had been hoping Sam Carter would be back for this match. Is he still on Baa Baas duty? Or is it just a matter of retaining last week’s side?

    It should be a very tight game and a win by either side won’t surprise. DP has been in scintillating form and well in the running for player of the tournament, along with Valetini and probably Naisarani and maybe Staniforth.

    • RugbyReg

      yeah I believe Sam is still with the Barbarians.

      The lock challenges for the Vikings are similar to QLD Country’s prop issues.

      • Simon

        Is Slipper’s injury just his shiner from the Drua tighthead’s Mayweather impression, or is there something else?

        • Jason

          Yeah, I’d say it was from the punch against Fiji. I really don’t understand how a literal punch is only a yellow card, yet contesting the ball in the air can be a red card. It’s a funny game isn’t it.

  • Jason

    I think no Slipper nor Fa’agase for the Country is going to really tip the balance in favour of the Vikings. I do think the Vikings should win, and are deserved favorites.
    But I think the ability of Queensland to get front foot ball from the forwards will help them leverage their slight edge in the backline.

    • Brumby Runner

      I just cannot see either of the sides gaining dominance over the other at set piece, but I do think DP will have to be kept very quiet by the Vikings if they are to prevail.

      • Bernie Chan

        DPA has had a fabulous NRC campaign after a less than stellar Super Rugby season…he is developing nicely. If the QLD Country pack can get some front foot ball, the backline marshalled by DPA could cause some damage. That is a big “IF” though…as noted by Jason, the absence of Slipper and Faagase weakens the QC scrum significantly, though others have pointed out the fact that the Vikings locks are a bit light on and that may balance the set piece ledger…Am hardly “impartial, but would love to see Tupou make one of his open field busts…and then steamroll the last defender! But whoever wins, I hope it is a cracking game befitting the occasion.

        • RugbyReg

          DPA is Duncan Paia’aua? I think he had a pretty damn good Super Rugby season. Some defensive issues with Samu in the centres, but I was pretty damn impressed with his play.

        • John Tynan

          Second that, Reg

        • Bernie Chan

          You are both correct…I guess I was hoping for more from the entire Reds backline, but DPA was certainly better than most of his team mates. Was in a flight overseas but read that QC won the NRC title game and DPA had a ‘blinder’. If well managed he should be a star for Oz very soon…at #12…

        • John Tynan

          I’m not as convinced on his “blinder” – a couple of sublime touches in the second half. It (MOTM) was probably a consolation prize for a very dodgy slice of cheese.

        • Bernie Chan

          Thanks JT (apologies to that ‘other’ JT of league fame…). STill not the “finished product” I guess…and the inherent dangers of ‘highlights reel’ videos…:) Hoping Thorn can reset the course of the Reds so younger guys like DPA, Tupou etc can fulfill their potential…is the newly signed Reds winger (from QLD Country…) any good? Has scored a lot of tries…

        • John Tynan

          Agree for sure.
          Duagunu certainly seems to know his way to the try line, great strength, balance in contact and a solid right foot step. Works hard off the ball I defence, a couple of suspect decisions in D but can make up for it with pace.
          That being said, not sure which winger he displaces in the Reds, as he’s very similar to Perese in ability and stature.

        • Bernie Chan

          Thanks, haven’t watched many NRC games due to working OS. Can’t have enough quality finishers..the competition for spots ought to improve every player and no doubt the coach would rather make a ‘difficult’ choice on who to leave out… Who does Thorn start with…?

      • Jason

        Honestly, most that Country back line has a case to be made for starting for the Reds.

        James Tuttle, Hamish Stewart, Duncan Paia’aua, Isaia Perese, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Filipo Daugunu could all be starting quality Super Rugby players.

  • Nicholas Wasiliev

    Great prediction here Reg. I agree with Canberra. To knock off a Spirit side that good is no mean feat, and I think it’ll prove vital for them in this game. Country will have a good crack at it, I reckon it’ll be a close one.
    I really hope the Canberra faithful get down to this game. The NRC has been wonderful this year, especially with fan connection. The Drua, the amazing support over in WA. It’s great to see those bigger crowds on TV, and also at the games. Watching the NRC has been an utter joy this year, and I expect this match to serve it up big time!

    • Brumby Runner

      My biggest concern with the Vikings is their one on one defense. They have let in plenty of tries this year and have only scraped through in a couple of games. They will need to keep a very close watch on Paia’aua and Nabuli in the backs.

      • RugbyReg

        they’ve conceded the least points of any team all year #WeAreTheUnderdogsNotYou

        • Brumby Runner

          Nah – even money bet in my books Reg.

        • John Tynan

          Good call. It was until 76 mins or so.

        • Brumby Runner

          Yep – the game changer was definitely the penalty at the 75 minute mark after the Brumbies had repelled numerous attacks on the line and then made it to half way after a turnover. The No 21 was penalised for running into a melee involving somewhere like 8 – 10 players. How one player came to be singled out, I just can’t fathom. And after watching it a couple of times, I couldn’t even see where the No 21 was involved. That turn around then led to two late tries to the QC side.

        • John Tynan

          He got it right in his first sentence: “I saw the two tens with some handbags…”
          I think it was actually 26 (Lausi Taliuli?) who was cranky with himself for botching it and blowing off some steam with a bit of jumper grabbing.
          Cusack’s solution was probably actually the best one!

  • Khun Pugwash

    Probably a stupid question but how do I watch this outside of Australia?

  • Pedro

    I think the Viking’s discipline was what got them over the line against the Spirit. I think it could well be the difference here.

    Great preview Reg.

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