The NRC headed to Tamworth for the final round clash of two “country” teams in the competition.
The yokels from Queensland had plenty to play for, a victory would sew up a home final whereas the bumpkins from NSW were looking to finish a tough year on a high and farewell some of their stalwarts in style
An all-country affair IN the capital of country music? Time to polish the RM Williams, dust off the Akubra and fire up the Landcruiser because it’s about to get more bruising than your average mechanic bull ride at Johnny Ringo’s.
It was NSW country that took control of the match from the opening whistle, pinning their northern cousins down near the line and holding the ball for the first 5 minutes of the match. QLD country seemed to have no answer. Some solid defence and a couple of individual big plays kept the southerners scoreless and eventually some smart kicking from QLD forced the play down the other end of the field and gave QLD their first chance at points.
Unlike the home team, QLD made no mistake with their first chance at points.
After 10 minutes, it was 7-nil and 15 on 14 as the Eagles’ Meafou found himself getting a rest for both losing his pants and his feet and bringing down QLD’s rolling maul.
The northerners looked to capitalise on their advantage but didn’t count on both some smart tactical kicking and incumbent Wallaby rake Latu putting his stamp on the game.
All of a sudden with 15 minutes gone it was scores level after Godinet touched down wide and Saolfoili nudged over the extras.
Both teams seemed to settling in at this point with neither side seeming to gain the ascendency.
Disaster struck at 20th minute for the visitors when Duncan Paia’aua copped an awkward head knock in a tackle and then a stray boot from a teammate within the same play and had to leave the field.
With the new centre pairing QLD looked vulnerable and Will McDonnell split them open only for Hamish Stewart to dislodge the ball with the goal line in sight.
QLD buggered up the exit though and after a stern word from the ref to both forward packs Meafou put his 145kg to good use to crash over from close range putting the home side ahead 14-7 and the game looked to be a lot better than the 2nd vs 7th on-paper match up.
From the restart it was NSW’s chance to stuff it up and on the back of a wonky line-out throw, scrum penalty, breakdown penalty and knock-on they finally opened up as Feauai-Sautia ran in from 49m and the QLD country backline was starting to fire.
From the restart, the Eagles hoisted it downfield only for QLD to respond in turn and elicit a knock-on from Eagle fullback Graham. As the seconds remaining in the first half wound down QLD looked to make something of their strong field position but Daugunu coughed it up and at the half it was 14-14.
The second stanza started in much the same way the first did except this time it was QLD with all the ball and territory. Making no mistake of it, QLD were in in the 43rd minute with Petaia getting over in the corner but Stewart couldn’t add the extras and it was 19-14 and all the running was with QLD.
Seemingly aware the game was in the balance Tolu Latu got through the defensive line and on the back of the ensuing breakdown penalty, suddenly NSW had a 5metre lineout.
QLD held strong against the maul and repelled the waves of attack eventually holding NSW’s scrumhalf Gordon up. After an early engage by QLD at the scrum and some quick play from NSW saw “Figgy Smalls” get the 5-pointer and hand his side the lead.
The crew from XXXland almost immediately hit back with hot-stepping Petaia making the defence look foolish as he did it all himself to grab the lead for the visitors again and make the locals worried about just what could happen if QLD’s backline started to fire.
QLD built pressure after the restart, a scrum penalty getting them down into NSW’s 22, setting up another strong rolling maul from which NSW were lucky to avoid yellow card after they brought it down. Again, QLD went for the rolling maul but this time it was their own clumsy feet and some strong defence from Latu saved the day.
At the 63rd minute, QLD found themselves in a quandry, both of their hookers had succumbed to injury and the game was headed for uncontested scrums until QLD’s Richie Asiata stepped up to make the shift from (benched) loosehead to hooker, if this game was any more country the Eags would have loaned Charles Abel to keep the game going.
The move worked a treat. Suddenly the scrums, which had been resulting in penalties both ways and a referee getting visibly frustrated, settled and after a strong run from Asiata bust Hoopert found himself over the line and QLD were ahead 33-21 with the bonus point they were desperate for was suddenly within reach.
As the game entered its last 15 minutes the backline big names from QLD really started to fire and they looked dangerous from anywhere running in another 2 tries eventually setting up a 45-21 win for QLD and assuring them a home final.
For a second vs second last game it really surprised me. The Eagles really came to play and the final score doesn’t truly reflect the match.
The Game Changer
The game changer was the referee’s stern rousing of both forward packs at 26th minute.
Like so many of us it seems he was sick of resets and both sets of front-rowers having their say about precisely where the mark is and who did what.
The line in the sand was drawn and from then on, any hint of an offence was met with a stern whistle. The net effect was that (amazingly) both packs could suddenly hold up their side of the scrum or, in the event they didn’t, either a short-arm or full-arm was blown and the game was got on with.
The G&GR MOTM
He may not have been best afield but we’re giving the man of the match to Queensland Country’s loosehead-come-hooker, Richie Asiata.
After being subbed off from prop, Asiata answered the call when both of QLD’s hooker went off injured and re-joined the battle in the front row, just a little to right of where he started.
Hopefully he’s nursing a cold beer to go with his (probably) sore neck.
Tip of the hat to Tolu Latu too, he gave it everything he had and continued the form he had in the second half of the last test match.
Rising Star Watch
Hard to separate Filipo Daugnu and Jordan Petaia, and even harder when Chris Feauai-Sautia starts to inject himself into the game.
The three all played absolute blinders, running hard and elusively every time they got involved.
Although, at 24 and 25 years of age I’m going to “exclude” CFS and Daugunu and give the gold star to Petaia.
If this guy isn’t considered for the November tour I’d hate to think what would happen to Cheika next time he ventured to Lang Park