The Grand Final between the minor premiership winning Brisbane City and second placed Canberra Vikings is everything that an NRC fan could hope for – perfect Ballymore afternoon before a World Cup final featuring the Wallabies, the two best teams and the opportunity for Brisbane to go back to back.
This was always going to be fairly even match as two physically strong sides both with Wallabies and Super Rugby representatives and with only one loss all season between the two sides it was set to be a battle of endurance. Brisbane City fans breathed a sigh of relief as Rowan ‘The Hoff” Hoffman was only named as an Assistant Referee after some contentious decisions last week that certainly got Nick Stiles hot under the collar.
In the second minute Francis Fainifo scored a beautiful try from some great work off the back of a Vikings scrum – quick ball from Joe Powell to the returning Jordan Smiler and then outside to Fainifo saw him cross 5m in from the sideline. Isaac Thompson missed the conversion, swinging it to the right.
Caydern Neville with his extraordinary height and arm length crossed not long after for the first Brisbane City try and Jake McIntyre converted successfully. From the early minutes it didn’t appear that this match was going to be a try-fest, but rather a tight match that was going to rely more on strong defense than an attacking plan. One of the signature elements of the NRC traditionally was the high try scoring, and it was a credit to both Nick Stiles and Brad Harris that their points differential were the only two in the positive, showing that both teams could attack and had built up their defense to limit the opposition.
Sustained pressure by the Vikings on the City line after a strong scrum eventually saw fullback Isaac Thompson. He was unsuccessful converting his own try.
Brisbane City in the early stages of this match didn’t get a lot of ball, and it was evident in their desperation when they did get it. Loose passes and needless knock-ons were too prevalent for comfort and it took time for them to settle down. The Brisbane City scrum, after an errant start, asserted dominance over the Vikings and the City lineouts were also more solid – Stiles has done a great job with the set piece and the players have really executed this well each week.
The backline passing from Vikings was at times absolutely beautiful to watch – Lealiifano, Iona and Ah Wong worked really well together, moving the ball quickly across the park. The forwards were being penalised
The next try for Brisbane City was a well deserved try for Nick Frisby. A scrum to City saw Frisby feed to McIntyre, then a heart in mouth moment as the ball came off the toe of Adam Korcyzk. Frisby grabbed it and almost swung over the line to score his third try in two matches. McIntyre missed the conversion and the pressure was still on Brisbane City, leading Canberra Vikings 13-10.
A couple of breaks from Chris Kuridrani and Junior Laloifi saw that Brisbane City still could slip through defensive holes left by the Vikings players. Kuridrani left a couple of tries out there today, something that he will need to work on for the Reds next year. Neville made some massive tackles and was fast over the park, but many of the City boys were blowing hard in the breaks in play and some of their moves had started to slip a little bit.
The Vikings used their bench quite early in the match, bringing two or three players on before the 60min mark. City on the other hand used their bench sparingly, and in spite of this being the first Grand Final that many of them had been named for, they didn’t all make it on to the field. Full credit to Andrew Ready in particular for going the full 80.
In the last 20mins of the game a number of errors crept into the match as both teams looked to close out the Grand Final. Liam Gill came close to crossing as he peeled off the back of a ruck, but he was bundled over the touchline. Alex Gibbon had a good match from the bench as he made some try-saving tackles and also crossed for a try of his own. A scrum 5m out from the Vikings line saw fast ball to McIntyre who offloaded to Gibbon, who crossed under the posts in the 72min. McIntyre converted to take the score to 21-10.
The rest of the match saw the play evenly divided by the two teams, but the Vikings couldn’t cross the line, effectively out on their feet. It was a good result for Brisbane City fans, and a solid, intense game, but it was slightly lacking the flair of other matches and the final last year. Congratulations to Nick Stiles and his coaching team, and all the Brisbane City players for winning back to back titles.
The club players returning to their local competitions will be the better for this season of NRC and Super Rugby players, particularly those on the fringe, got some valuable game time before they start preseason training next month. Bring on 2016!
The Game Changer
This was a tight one, and it wasn’t until Alex Gibbon scored in the 72′ minute that Brisbane City fans breathed a little easier. Like I said, it was tight! Watching it, I got the feeling it was actually a Super Rugby match, not an NRC match. Full credit to the players and coaches.
The G&GR MOTM
There were several great individual performances for Brisbane City – Liam Gill and Caydern Neville stood tall as usual. Nick Frisby is our man of the match. Yes, he didn’t have a perfect match but his kicking game was near flawless. Looking forward to seeing him for the Reds next year.
Thank you linesman, thank you ball boys
This season of the NRC was drowned out a little bit by the Rugby World Cup, but there were fantastic individual and team performances around the country. Players and coaches are learning to transition to a higher level of rugby, and it will only get stronger. Special mention goes to the state unions who have supported this level of the competition so well. Looking forward to the third year of this competition (and perhaps a three-peat!).
Score & Scorers
Tries: Neville, Frisby, Gibbon
Conversions: McIntyre 2/3
Tries: Fainifo, Thompson
Conversions: Thompson 0/2
Cards & citings
Yellow: Robert Abel