NRC 2018 Draw Released - Green and Gold Rugby
National Rugby Championship

NRC 2018 Draw Released

NRC 2018 Draw Released

The draw for this year’s National Rugby Championship (NRC) has been released and, as we enter the competition’s fifth year, there have been a few tweaks on the previous year.

The Changes:

Sydney-Centric:

As previously announced, the NSWRU have cut the number of NSW based teams in the NRC down to just two. What it means is that none of the original Sydney NRC teams now exist as the Greater Sydney Rams (formerly known as the Western Sydney Rams) and the Sydney Rays (formerly known as the North Harbour Rays) have gone the way of the Sydney Rays.  The NSW Country Eagles remain but are now joined by a team to be known simply as Sydney as a throw back to the traditional Sydney representative team that used to take on touring teams way back in the amateur days.

While it is sad to see the disintegration of some of those team identities of years past, most particularly the Rams, it is heartening that there seems some greater support in NSW Rugby for the NRC this year. It would seem that the two NSW teams will be managed much the same as the two Queensland teams, who have won three of the four titles between them.  NSW Waratahs General Manager, Tim Rapp, has indicated that depth will be spread across the two teams, acknowledging the heritage of the players involved.

“We want to see our best players in all positions representing our teams, which will not only add to the competition for selection amongst players but also help the coaches play the strongest match 23 every week,” Rapp said.

And in a real first, the Shute Shield twitter account has actually acknowledged the competition.

Stream-lined:

Cutting a NSW team hasn’t meant there is growth elsewhere. As such NRC18 will feature a clean eight teams, down from the nine they had last year. In reality we revert back to the model of 2016 where there were no byes and a blink and you’ll miss it seven week competition.  What it means is that there is no time for a slow start. In 2016 the Western Sydney Rams came together basically the first week of the competition and the combinations struggled to form for a couple of weeks. The form came a little to late for the Rams and they finished just outside of the finals.  A couple of extra weeks of preparation to ensure they got a running start to the NRC, could have been all they needed to secure their inaugural finals spot.

Rugby Australia have been extremely kind to the Sydney clubs this year to accommodate the threat of a similar start. With the Shute Shield Grand Final to be played on the same weekend as Round 1 of NRC18 (1 September), we have the slightly quirky situation of a Round three and a half.  Basically, Sydney will host NSW Country at Leichhardt Oval as Round 1 but the match won’t be played until the Wednesday night (19 September) in between Rounds 3 and 4. It means Syndey’s first four games are at home while NSW Country will play their first game of the season (Round 2) across on the West Coast, before coming back to their home state for their next three clashes.

NSW Country's rolling maul was a try scoring weapon

NSW Country – the Eagles are back!

Brand Force Returns:

While NSW Rugby have done away with the Rays and Rams, West Australian Rugby have ditch the Perth Spirit as well. But that was an understandable decision and one that will strengthen the brand of the Western Force hot on the heels of World Series Rugby. What it means is that the Force will be the best prepared team in the NRC when you consider their global recruiting strategy, their singular focus on this team (no Super Rugby disruption) and the seven ‘pre-season trials’ they would have played as part of World Series Rugby. There’s no word yet on whether international players such as Jeremy Thrush, Henry Teafu, Peter Grant and the likes will play NRC or whether the focus will be on Australian eligible players.

One change from WSR will be the team returning to their normal NRC ground of UWA Sports Park.  Assuming attendance will again be free at these games, and on the back of some excellent WSR crowds, it will be interesting to see what sorts of crowds they pull.  While only hosting three games this regular season, they are three pretty damn good ones with the two NSW teams and the highly popular Fiji Drua all visiting. The Drua in particular, in the last round, should be able to draw a crowd considering the WSR encounter with Fiji a few weeks ago and given this Drua time is likely to be stronger than they were.

Given the Perth Spirit successfully challenged for the Horan-Little Shield in the last round of last year, we can expect the Western Force to be the current holders. Unless they put it up for grabs in the first round, away against Brisbane, it is likely to be played for in Round 2 against NSW Country.

2017 Horan-Little Shield Winners: Perth Spirit

2017 Horan-Little Shield Winners: Perth Spirit

Status Quo:

Fox Sports Support:

Fox Sports will again be right behind the competition this season broadcasting each and every match commercial free across their platforms.  Two games per week will be broadcast on TV, with the remaining two games available to stream LIVE via foxsports.com.au/live and the FOX SPORTS App. The quality of the broadcasts and streams have been excellent in recent years and while we would all love some more rugby on free-to-air, this broadcast is pretty damn accessible. There are always deals going around for subscriptions, so keep an eye out and grab it when you can.

Out and About:

NRC18 is again getting out amongst the people taking the game to new (or rarely used) venues whether they be regional or club grounds.  While the Force (UWA Sports Park) and the Canberra Vikings (Viking Park) remain solid, all other teams will take their matches on the road.  Even the Drua are shaking things up by hosting NSW Country at Ratu Cakobau (Nausori) for the first time, with their other two home games at Churchill Park, Lautoka which held games last year.  Queensland Country will do the right thing by their sponsors with a couple of games at Bond University, but will also take their first two home games up north where they will host the Rising at Mike Carney Park (Townsville) and then the Drua at the excellent BB Print Stadium (Mackay).  Meanwhile, for the first time in the competition’s history Brisbane City will play no games at Ballymore as they hit the club compass hard with games at Norths (Force), Wests (QLD Country) and Easts (Vikings).

Melbourne Rising may need to reconsider their name as they will barely be seen in Melbourne. Their first ‘home game’ is in Round 4 when they host Brisbane in Adelaide at Bailey Reserve. It’s not the first time the NRC has been to South Australia, with the Spirit taking one of their home games there back in 2014. The Rising will then host games in Geelong (v the Force) and Ballarat (v Sydney). The newly evolved Sydney team will play a couple of games at Leichhardt Oval and then one each at Concord Oval and Woollahra Oval. NSW Country will take their four home games to Mudgee, Armidale, Camden and Tamworth.

AJ Alatimu makes a break to score for Brisbane City

Brisbane City taking more games to clubland


 

GAGR will again do our best to cover the NRC as thoroughly as possible. As the competition takes the game further afield, we will no doubt be challenged to get to every game. So if you are interested in helping us cover games (writing match reviews or taking photos) please get in touch and we can chat. For those who haven’t engaged with the NRC previously we urge you to give it a shot. We reckon it’s worth it.

Draw:

All times local

ROUND ONE

Saturday September 1

Fiji Drua vs Melbourne Rising, Nausori, Ratu Cakobau Park, 3pm

Canberra Vikings vs Queensland Country, Canberra, Viking Park, 5pm

Sunday September 2

Brisbane City v Western Force, Brisbane, Norths Rugby Club, 3pm

Wednesday September 19*

Sydney vs NSW Country, Sydney, Leichhardt Oval, 7pm

ROUND TWO

Saturday September 8

Fiji Drua vs Brisbane City, Lautoka, Churchill Park, 3pm

Sydney vs Canberra Vikings, Sydney, Concord Oval, 3pm

Sunday September 9

Queensland Country vs Melbourne Rising, Townsville, Mike Carney Park, 3pm

Western Force vs NSW Country Eagles, Perth, UWA Sports Park

ROUND THREE

Saturday September 15

Sydney vs Brisbane City, Sydney, Woollahra Oval, 3pm

NSW Country vs Melbourne Rising, Mudgee, Glen Willow Sports Stadium, 1pm

Queensland Country vs Fiji Drua, Mackay, BB Print Stadium, 1pm

Sunday September 16

Canberra Vikings vs Western Force, Canberra, Viking Park, 3pm

ROUND FOUR

Saturday September 22

Melbourne Rising vs Brisbane City, Adelaide, Bailey Reserve, 12.30pm

Queensland Country vs Western Force, Gold Coast, Bond University, 3pm

Sunday September 23

NSW Country Eagles vs Canberra Vikings, Armidale, UNE Bellevue Oval, 1pm

Sydney vs Fiji Drua, Sydney, Concord Oval, 3pm

ROUND FIVE

Saturday September 29

Fiji Drua vs NSW Country Eagles, Nausori, Ratu Cakobau Park, 3pm

Canberra Vikings vs Melbourne Rising, Canberra, Viking Park, 7pm

Sunday September 30

Brisbane City vs Queensland Country, Toowong, Wests Rugby Club, 3pm

Western Force vs Sydney, Perth, UWA Sports Park, 3pm

ROUND SIX

Saturday October 6

Fiji Drua vs Canberra Vikings, Lautoka, Churchill, 3pm

Queensland Country vs Sydney, Gold Coast, Bond University, 3pm

Sunday October 7

NSW Country Eagles vs Brisbane City, Camden, Camden Rugby Park, 3pm

Melbourne Rising vs Western Force, Geelong, GMHBA Stadium, 3pm

ROUND SEVEN

Saturday October 13

NSW Country vs Queensland Country, Tamworth, Scully Park, 3pm

Western Force vs Fiji Drua, Perth, UWA Sports Park, 2pm

Sunday October 14

Melbourne Rising vs Sydney, Ballarat, St Patrick’s School, 1pm

Brisbane City vs Canberra Vikings, Coorparoo, Easts Rugby Club, 2pm

SEMI-FINALS

Saturday October 20

1st vs 4th

Sunday October 21

2nd vs 3rd

The final will be played on Saturday October 27.

Feature image photo credit to Brendan Hertel/QRU

 

  • Alister Smith

    Very disappointing to see that the Western Rams won’t be taking part, particularly after listening to the recent Dropped Kick-Off podcast about the state of the game in western Sydney.

    I hope it’s another good season for NRC with some growth in support and player development. I think there is a place for it in the game in Australia. We had a very different system to the two major countries that we compete against in Super Rugby in that we didn’t have a ready made national competition when we went into it (or we did have a national comp but just three teams in it).

    It’s ironic for me that some people see the lack of traditional rivalry in these fixtures because one of the things that I love about it, having played in both the country areas of NSW and Qld is that I can see teams called NSW Country and Qld Country run around (even though they might not be legitimate).

    If the end of Super Rugby is nigh (though recent articles suggest that it isn’t) then the NRC plus some involvement from Asia/South Pacific either through World Rugby assistance or Twiggy Forrest and some like minded sponsors/supporters might be our best chance.

    • Braveheart81

      The Rams essentially became an Eastwood team last year. They weren’t really a western Sydney team in much aside from name.

      The Sydney team having two games at Concord this season will give as much if not more access for people from the west to access games. That combined with the Eagles playing a game at Camden is good for bringing a match to a different area on the edge of Sydney.

      • Mart

        That’s massive a game at Camden… Small stand though

    • Pedro

      Yeah it’s shit. Just because they were roughly Eastwood last year doesn’t mean it’s fine that they keep lurching in the wrong direction.

  • John R

    Thanks for the roundup Reg. Will be interesting to see how the NSW teams go this season. No games in Melbourne is a curious one, but a weekend away to Ballarat with the missus to take that game in could be a goer.

    Maybe a couple of beers, a few laughs. Good living.

    • Brumby Runner

      Recommend anyone going to Ballarat take a detour to Woodend to take in (and away) some product from the Holgate Brewery in High Street. The American Pale Ale is up there with the best beers in the land.

      • John R

        That’s a great tip mate. Will be taking that up for sure!

  • BigNickHartman

    Not really cheery about the location of the Sydney games. Not really representative, and the fact that Country’s playing in Camden (is that not greater Sydney?) is a bit of a worry.

    Isn’t the Sydney/Country a perfect opportunity to play a game on the metro fringe, Penrith, Gosford or Camden?

    • Who?

      Quick question for those who know the history… Is Camden part of the SRU, or is it part of southern highlands, or whatever the neighbouring region is? I’m asking because the same question was raised about Qld Country playing on the Gold Coast. But GCDRU has always been part of the QCRU, and it was delegates from Mt Isa who defended that the most strongly when the issue was first raised in a QRU meeting. Given, then, it was continuing tradition, it was greeted with full support. I wonder if the same might be true of Camden?

      • Greg

        “QCRU” Quade Cooper Rugby Union?

        • Who?

          Queensland Country Rugby Union. And Gold Coast District Rugby Union.

      • Wato

        Camden is part of Illawarra District (IDRU) which is affiliated with NSW Country.

        • Who?

          Thanks. :-)

  • Nicholas Wasiliev

    I’m gutted about the removal of the Rams. Of all the NSW teams, they were really starting to build an identity, for all the off-field politics going on. Their removal is a huge loss.
    There has to be a real push from the Sydney team to include and incorporate Western Sydney, otherwise it will alienate those Rugby fans even more. And having the one NRC NSW derby game on a Wednesday night honest to god bewilders me! Those Sydney games are all over the place.
    That being said, having NSW Rugby involved is encouraging, and I hope that we finally start to see some advertising and building of identity around these teams.
    This little competition has the potential to do so much good for the game in this country. I’ve been to many games and I’ve never left the ground disappointed. I really hope more and more people get behind this. It’s good to see it back.
    Up the Eagles!

  • Perth girl

    Any announcement of a sponsor yet?

  • Bobas

    Why bother being called the Melbourne Rising if none of your games are in Melbourne?

    • Braveheart81

      They’re rising above Melbourne… and below Melbourne depending on which game.

      • Bobas

        I just don’t expect how they expect someone to go for them when they don’t nurture the fans. They shop themselves around the state and even to Adelaide now to the detriment of everyone.

    • Metootootoo

      Cool your Jets

      1. They only have three home games this year
      2. Nothing wrong with Geelong and Ballarat – they have done this before – both actually quite vibrant rugby communities.
      3. RV and the Rebels have some sort of pact with SA and with Was I think) to cooperate to grow the game in the southern states – this was flagged months ago.

      I for one think all this is a good thing although I do think that Kardina Park is way to big for the match in Geelong.

      I will go to both games – the need to drive will keep me sober

      • Bobas

        They only have 3 home games isn’t a reason.
        There is a lot wrong with Geelong and Ballarat.
        More people in Adelaide will got for Bris City, especially if Quade is playing.

        • Metootootoo

          Well the news tonight is that Quade most definitively won’t be playing ( see rugby.com.au). And, since Brisbane will not be playing within a 1000 km of Adelaide and the Rising will be be – I suspect they just might get behind them. Especially as this is the first opportunity for RV and the Rebels to deliver on the spirit of the agreement they have entered into withe the SA rugby community, I think they will be there with bells on. Go Rising

        • Who?

          Yeah, that makes sense, yet more money wasted by the QRU, failing to use a massive drawcard who they’re paying… Especially given City doesn’t have an experienced 10 in their list. Lance will be back with Worcester, Stewart and Paia’aua are QC boys (given Hamish played his Rugby in Toowoomba and Duncan in Rockhampton).
          I get not taking up the option for Hunt, given he’s a repeat offender over a long period. But Slipper’s a first time offender, and Cooper’s not done anything to lose his contract (i.e. people are asking why Hunt’s contract and, to a lesser extent, Slipper’s contract hasn’t been torn up, but no one can see any excuse for Cooper’s contract to be made void).
          Maybe another region will look to take up the option for Mr Cooper and (if Qld Country choose not to take up the option) Mr Slipper for the NRC.

        • Braveheart81

          Melbourne to Geelong is 1 hour. Melbourne to Ballarat is an hour and a half. Those aren’t exactly inaccessible for wants wanting to attend from Melbourne.

          Does anyone from Brisbane go and watch Qld Country play? The Gold Coast is no closer.

          I think one of the good aspects of the NRC is it provides opportunities to go and support your team somewhere different that can include a weekend away if you want to but doesn’t have to.

          The NSW Country Eagles game in Mudgee looks ideal for that for me.

        • Bobas

          Maybe they should be called the Adelaide Rising.
          The drive time is the same the other way around.

        • Braveheart81

          I guess it’s about taking games to other areas that hopefully brings in new fans who wouldn’t otherwise get that opportunity whilst still allowing your core fans access. It’s not like these games would have 10k people at them if they played them in Melbourne. Crowds would probably be pretty similar. Just a different mix of people.

        • Bobas

          You’re probably right, they’re just a frustrating team to try and follow when they seem to be in either south east Melbourne or rural, if they put the games for free at princess park like they did with the WAFL they’d get a shit tonne of families.

        • disqus_NMXfOrw5ot

          Geelong is really close if you go via helicopter :D

  • Bobas

    Can’t wait to see Bull Pulver showing up to the Force games in the eastern states just to boo them.

  • Who?

    I’m really sad that there’s only 2 NSW teams. The state that provides the majority of the players in Super Rugby (so we keep on hearing) should provide more than 2/7 of the Australian NRC teams.
    But I’m very pleased that the NSWRU are attempting to follow the QRU’s lead of distributing Super players evenly across the two teams and basing it on player’s history. And the Sydney Anchor logo. Hopefully we can follow the positive movements in this year’s NRC (those mentioned, which are obviously counterbalanced by the major losses like the loss of the Rams, and previously the Stars (I think?)) to FINALLY establish the NRC in Sydney (just as it’s strongly established in the other states) and then progress back to further Sydney-based teams.

    • Braveheart81

      The problem is that with 4 or 3 NSW teams they have consistently struggled to have teams make the finals and generally featured near the bottom of the table.

      NSW (and Qld) might provide the majority of players but the players that have come from there originally are spread across the country based on where they are contracted. There isn’t enough talent from within the Shute Shield to compete with teams that are full of Super Rugby players as every NRC season has proven.

      • Who?

        I still maintain the issue for the 3 or 4 NSW teams isn’t player depth, or number of Super players. It’s about the off field resources. Qld Country won last year, in spite of not being based at Ballymore or being a singular team based off a Super team. Brisbane City won the first two despite not having a monopoly on Reds stars. But both teams had full access to all of the resources of the QRU. Three of the four seasons haven’t been won by Super teams playing ‘down’ in the NRC. The Vikings haven’t won. The Rising haven’t risen to a title. The Spirit won.
        Then, contrast that with Super form. When the Spirit won, they weren’t leading the Super table. They were still yet to have Wessels land a coach the Force. When the Qld sides won, they were based off half of a Super team each, and that Super team wasn’t top quality.
        Sydney has the players. It clearly has the depth, and they’ve got enough supporters to do whatever the NSWRU wants to do. The big issue is off field, having access to IP, to facilities, to analysis.
        It’s the same as the issues with player depth in Super Rugby – we don’t have an issue with player depth, we have an issue with coaching skills/development, where players are coming to the top level and not improving. Jack Debreczeni and Nick Stirzacker are perfect examples…

        • Braveheart81

          Those Qld sides were still full of Super Rugby contracted players. They were splitting a Super Rugby side between two teams and can complement that with enough talent from club rugby.

          I don’t think we do have the depth in Sydney to filed three or four teams no matter how well resourced they are.

          I agree we need better coaching but I also don’t think Jack Debreczeni is a good example. He has been part of a long procession of under 20s 10s who didn’t look particularly good relative to the opposition and then that has played out as they have got older. He went to an under 20 World Cup with players like Handre Pollard from South Africa and Henry Slade from England. Simon Hickey was NZs 10 and was probably the worst 10 they have had at the competition and his career hasn’t gone anywhere either.

          I don’t think you can blame the coaching so much when a player who looks substantially less talented than those coming through from our biggest opposition doesn’t then develop to be a superstar.

        • Who?

          Full of players contracted to a team that was nigh on bottom of the table. That’s different to the Vikings, who were higher on the table. Or the Spirit, or Rising.
          Qld Country won last year with a backline that wasn’t hugely experienced (Tuttle being the general at 9, Stewart and Paia’aua having spent a lot of time together at training with the Reds, in spite of not being on the field together too much), but the reason they got away with that was the quality of off field support. Not just the coaching team (who are now the Reds coaching team), but the support that coaching team got. Conditioning. Analysis. Equipment. That’s where the NSW teams have consistently fallen down, because it’s all been carried by clubs who are set up to compete at Shute level, and it’s harder to step up from SS to NRC than to step down from SR to NRC. Offers of help from the Tahs isn’t the same as being integrated into the set up. It’s not near as natural or comfortable. Because the players are more than good enough.
          The point of mentioning Debreczeni isn’t about his talent ceiling, it’s about how much he’s progressed and developed – or not – since making his debut. So the question is about how you utilize a player to get the best from them, and how you ensure that the player is developing. There’s far too many players around the country who’ve not progressed after making their Super debut.

        • Braveheart81

          Well if the two NSW teams dominate the comp now that they hopefully have the right level of support they can look at expanding back to three sides.

        • Who?

          I think having the right level of support – better involvement from the NSWRU – is a great thing, and I hope they show a LOT of improvement this year, on the way to going back to having a third team. :-)

  • Charcoal

    They still haven’t got it right, particularly with regard to the NSW based teams. While I’ll concede that it was probably the right decision to cut back to two teams for the short format, as much as I was a Rams’ supporter, I can’t see the point of having a NSW “Country” team, when most players will be Sydney based anyway. It hasn’t been confirmed as far as I know that it will based on “Country Origin”. If it’s merely spreading Sydney based Super Rugby and Shute Shield players across the two teams, then it’s a bit of a misnomer to identify one team as representing NSW Country. Where’s the tribal following in that?

    It would be more sensible and engender greater tribal following if the teams were split between the North and South in Sydney, for example North Harbour and South Harbour which has a past history and rivalry based on Shute Shield club location, or call them what you will. They should play their respective home games North and South of the Harbour, say North Sydney Oval and Sydney University Football Ground, as well as playing one home game each in a NSW Regional centre, as is now being common with some Shute Shield matches, eg Eastwood v Norths in Cowra last weekend. IMO this would create far more interest than some contrived Country based team.

    Looking at the longer term development of the NRC, if it were to become an extended full season competition, whether as a fully professional replacement for Super Rugby or in tandem with the State Premier Rugby competitions, then I can see the potential to reintroduce the Western Sydney Rams as a third NSW (Sydney) based team, alongside teams from the North and South by whatever names. Playing over a longer time-frame in a fully professional environment would overcome the current problem of diluting the end of season playing talent over multiple teams with Premier Club players not having enough time to adjust to the higher standard of competition.

  • Brumby Runner

    I think the NRC comp is still having trouble defining itself. With the reduction of the NSW based teams to 2, it is looking a bit more Super Rugby Lite rather than a development competition for the next generation, the original plan for the ARC in 2007 as I recall.

    In its present format, it would probably be better undertaken before the Super season starts, but I know that can’t happen while the Mitre 10 and Curry Cup competitions are locked into the later part of the rugby calendar.

    If it were to be used as a development pathway, I think it should comprise of three NSW sides (call them what you will), maybe three from Qld, and two each from Canberra, Melbourne and Perth. Of course, a competition of that size would not fit into any calendar influenced by the Shute Shield, so I guess I have to accept it for what it is. Good grief, even the derby of Sydney v Country has to be shifted to a later date to accommodate the final of the SS.

    The schedule itself is heavily biassed towards the Sydney team. Four games in the Woolahra, Concord area the first four weeks of the comp while others have to travel multi thousands of Kms in the same period – see the Rising for their nightmare travel schedule. RA is bending over backwards just to satisfy the SS and NSW rugby, it seems to me.

    • Braveheart81

      The NSW teams also have to play 3 games in the space of 9 days so it evens it out a bit. The Shute Shield Grand Final is also on the same weekend as the first round of the comp so depending on how many players from the two NSW sides are involved in that their preparation will be shortened.

      Brisbane’s club rugby GF is two weeks before the comp starts. I’m not sure about Melbourne, Canberra or Perth but it would seem that the other sides will get a better preparation prior to round one as well.

      So for one advantage in reduced travel early in the comp they’ve got several disadvantages.

      • Brumby Runner

        yeah, the SS clubs are still really not behind the NRC. That’s their problem though and only they can fix it.

        Doesn’t alter the fact the schedule is very kind to Sydney.

    • Braveheart81

      The NSW teams also have to play 3 games in the space of 9 days so it evens it out a bit. The Shute Shield Grand Final is also on the same weekend as the first round of the comp so depending on how many players from the two NSW sides are involved in that their preparation will be shortened.

      Brisbane’s club rugby GF is two weeks before the comp starts. I’m not sure about Melbourne, Canberra or Perth but it would seem that the other sides will get a better preparation prior to round one as well.

      So for one advantage in reduced travel early in the comp they’ve got several disadvantages.

  • Shtinatina

    Umm, why is Henry Taefu considered an international player at the Force? Is it cause he was in France or he’s rep’d for Samoa?

National Rugby Championship
@RugbyReg

The original prop in a prop's body, but thankfully I have the rugby mind of a prop as well.

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