The 2015 NRC season kicks off this week with a Grand Final re-match between Brisbane City and Perth Spirit, telecast live from Ballymore on Fox Sports. As a means of a NRC Preview, we will be running a series of articles in the lead up to this first game to give you a bit more of an insight into what we can expect this NRC season.
Today we are looking at five rookies to watch this year. The competition is a wonderful stepping stone for the developing player to prove themselves on a bigger stage, and we look at a handful that we can expect big things from down the track, with hopefully a sneak preview over the coming months.
Taniela Tupou (Queensland Country)
The Tongan Thor will play his first representative rugby since moving from youtube sensation to Reds development player this year. Still a teenager yet weighing in at 135kgs, Tupou has completed a full season of Premier Grade rugby with the famous Brothers club in Brisbane. Under the guidance of former Reds prop, Anthony Mathison, Tupou caught the eye of many a rugby pundit throughout the season. It’s easy to forget that Tupou is still just fresh out of school when you consider the performances he put in for the Brethren this year.
His running game remains just as dominant in club rugby as it did at school level. His work rate was strong and he proved effective at the ruck. But in the end the biggest question for a front rower will be around his scrummaging. It’s fair to say that Tupou has plenty of work to do here, without suggesting that he is a weak link in this area. He was a part of many a dominant scrum for Brothers, but was also found out on occasions by experienced scrummagers. It’s exactly the type of education rugby fans should want of him.
His education will continue in the NRC and the anticipation is building. I wouldn’t expect him to start early, with QLD Country having a couple of strong scrummagers in Sef Fa’agese and Haydn Hirsimaki, but he’ll definitely get a taste of a higher level of rugby, and one that may fit his style of play quite nicely.
Reece Hodge (North Harbour Rays)
You probably wouldn’t put Hodge in the same class as the Tongan Thor with respect to internet sensations, but there’s no doubting recent footage of him kicking a 75m goal that popped up on-line, has helped create a bit of buzz about him. The Manly junior has recently been snapped up by the Melbourne Rebels for next year’s Super Rugby season, but Hodge will be the centre of attention for the North Harbour Rays during the NRC. With conversions worth three points in the NRC, a high quality kicker becomes a real must-have for a successful team.
However Hodge is far from a one-trick pony. Having come through the usual systems, from Australian Schoolboys to Australian Under 20s. He has been in terrific form for his beloved Manly Marlins this year scoring over 150 points, and will form an important combination with his club mate Sam Lane at flyhalf.
Joe Powell (UC Vikings)
21 year old Joe Powell received a bit of attention earlier this year when he had to down tools as an apprentice carpenter to make his Super Rugby debut for the Brumbies at scrumhalf after an injury to Wallaby Nic White. It was a fantastic story for the seeming throw back to the amateur days when the players still had jobs and had to negotiate time off to play rep footy. He is also the very type of player for which the NRC is made for.
A Brumby member since he was four years old, the NRC will provide Powell the perfect opportunity to stake his case for the Brumbies #9 jersey next year with White heading overseas. The opportunity is sure to be made a little easier by the likely presence of Wallaby Christian Lealiifano outside of him at flyhalf and a pack with players of the calibre of Ita Vaea, Jarrad Butler, Rory Arnold and Ben Alexander.
With Hockeyroo legends, Lisa and Katrina Powell as cousins, and Australian Under 20 experience under his belt, Powell seems made of the right stuff. It will now be about producing on the bigger stage as he continues his rugby development in Canberra.
Fereti Sa’aga (Melbourne Rising)
This 2013 Australian Schoolboy loosehead prop appeared a couple of times for the Melbourne Rising in their Minor Premiership run during last year’s NRC. However expect to see a lot more of him in the Rising pack in this year’s iteration.
Having missed out on selection for the Australian Under 20 team in 2014, Sa’aga went on to represent Samoa at the tournament, in the hope of continuing his rugby development and prove the selectors wrong in 2015. They seemed to take notice and he was back representing the nation of his birth (Australia) at this year’s tournament in Italy.
Having just turned 20 this year, there’s a long way to go in Sa’aga’s rugby development but he joins Tupou in being a new generation of dynamic young prop forwards set to make a name for themselves in this year’s tournament. Keep an eye out for Camoron Orr (Greater Sydney Rams) and Ollie Hoskings (Perth Spirit) as well.
Ned Hanigan (NSW Country Eagles)
The NSW Country Eagles have done well to secure themselves one of the stand outs from the Australian Under 20’s team’s Junior World Cup campaign in Italy earlier this year, in lock/back rower Ned Hanigan. Not only is Hanigan a legitimate talent and proven himself dominant at his various levels of development, but as a product of the Western Plains region of NSW (Coonamble), he’s a country boy through and through.
Having played plenty of rugby out west, Hanigan made the big trip to Sydney to attend St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill, from where he made the Australian Schoolboys team to tour the UK. He has continued his rugby development at Randwick Rugby Club and was one of the best for the Aussie Under 20s this year.
He’ll have some quality around him in the Eagles pack with the likes of Beau Robinson, Sam Carter, Tom Staniforth, Tom Sexton and Sam Lousi. So the development continues for Hanigan, in a new competition with a new team, but one that should provide a perfect continuing education platform for him.