Well that certainly was a cracking weekend of rugby. Four bloody close games, come from behind victories in each, superb tries, monstor hits, scruammaging battles – what more could you want?
One thing the quality of the games did do was make selection for the Team of the Week so much tougher. Thanks to the inevitable thrashing or two, I was usually able to eliminate at least one team a round from selection consideration. But this week! This week that was no chance. There were contenders from all teams across the weekend and that made this a very tough task. No more diddling about, let’s check out the team.
15 Alivereti Veitokani (Fiji Drua) – 3rd week in team
When I heard that Peceli Nacebe would not be returning for the Drua this year after his amazing cameo of last year, I was shattered. That misery soon faded as I saw what Veitokani brought to the table. He’s what Mark Waugh would look like if he played rugby – moving like he’s in slow motion with time to spare. Doesn’t matter if its flyhalf or fullback, he’s all class. Jack McGregor (Force) and Justin Masters (Rising) were impressive, but still not a patch on the Drua 15.
14 Avete Daveta (Fiji Drua) – 1st
I love me some speedy wingers so I was hard pressed not to pick Rod Davies and / or Filipo Daugunu in one of these wing spots. In the end I went for the power wingers, not that these lads are fast. Daveta was one of the stars of last year’s Drua but has been relatively overshadowed by the feats of his opposite winger, Levani Kurumundu. Daveta was the star on Sunday though, despite a yellow card. He ran strongly, linked as needed and tackled exceptionally.
13 Curtis Rona (Sydney Rays) – 1st
Much of the resurgence of the Brisbane City side seems to have come with Tautalatasi Tasi introduction to the team. The former South Sydney Rabbitoh has brought a sting to the Slicker’s attack and defence. However this round was all about Rona. The Waratah centre has not received a Wallaby shot this year but showed the type of form for the Rays against the Drua that should see him back in contention. Two tries were the start of it, as he played at a level you’d expect for the highest credentialed player in the team.
12 Duncan Paia’aua (QLD Country) – 1st
The Rays were also sparked by the relocation of Tyson Davis into the centres where he was impressive at Concord Oval on Sunday. And despite the game winning heroics of Jackson Jordon-Hope for the Vikings, I’ve opted for QLD Country skipper Paia’aua for this spot this week. He really needs to work on improving his missed tackle rate, but it’s what he does with the ball that is of such importance to QLD Country. His interchange with Daugunu for his own try was simply magical.
11 Latu Latunipulu (Sydney Rays) – 2nd
The flying winger was a standout for the Rays up against some mighty impressive Fijian wingers. Latunipulu’s impact with the ball in hand was a big reason why his Rays team was on course for the upset of the season going into the last quarter of the match. He seemed to bust tackles at will and was a constant handful for the Drua defence.
10 Quade Cooper (Brisbane City) – 1st
The battle on the Coast between Hamish Stewart and Andrew Deegan was of high standard, while Harry Burey continues to impress for the Sydney Rays. However down in Adelaide Quade Cooper was exceptional as he guided his relatively inexperienced City side to an excellent come from behind win over the Rising. Quade was at his beguiling best as he probed the Melbourne defence and directed his team around the park. A special treat for hungry South Australian rugby fans.
9 Ian Prior (Western Force) – 2nd
What Quade was doing with razzle dazzle in Adelaide, Prior was doing with clinical composure on the Gold Coast. Put aside the perfect goal kicking performance that was so decisive in the Force’s 2nd away win in Queensland, it was his experience in general play that gives Prior the edge for selection here. The Force play such a precise game with the forwards working intently on recycling quality ball before unleashing the likes of Deegan and Jack McGregor to create opportunities for the wingers. It’s a game that requires assured and assertive decision making and option taking form the nine. And that’s exactly what the Force skipper brought to the table, again, on the weekend.
8 Brynard Stander (Western Force) – 1st
The Force took somewhat of a risk in resting Chris Alcock from their team last weekend. Although it’s probably not a risk when you know you have a player such as Stander in whom you can be completely confident to fill the breach. And that’s what he did against QLD Country. Stander was an inspiration when his Force side most needed and worked relentlessly in putting his side in the best position to snag the win. Two unheralded players in Hugh Sinclair of the Rays and, in particular, Sam Wallis for Brisbane City were both outstanding and strong selection contenders too.
7 Mosese Voka (Fiji Drua) – 2nd
The Fiji Drua skipper was the heart and sole of his team’s comeback win on Sunday arvo. While his team was falling apart early, Voka never flinched. His work in attack was strong and he marshalled his team to keep within striking distance. And strike they did. Voka was immense either side of the ball but, like every good Fijian forward, it was his ball in hand work that stood him apart. NSW Country openside Will Miller was very strong for his Eagles team, but the impact Voka had on the Drua win was significant.
6 Sam Figg (NSW Country Eagles) – 1st
Figgy Smalls is back from his sojourn in the US as part of Major League Rugby’s inaugural year. Figg slipped straight back into the Eagles jersey like he hadn’t skipped a beat and was in everything in Armidale on Sunday. A workhorse in defence, Figg contributes big time in attack and while he doesn’t look like a muscle man, his impact ball in hand is significant. Harrison Orr worked tireless for the Western Force while it was great to see Jack Dempsey ease his way back into rugby with a good stint for the Rays.
5 Fergus Lee-Warner (Western Force) – 1st
The somewhat unknown Lee-Warner finished on top of his encounter with the young ‘star’ locks of QLD Country, Harry Hocking and Angus Blythe. FLW made a heap of tackles however it was the impact he created at the ruck and when he ran the ball that caught the eye most. He played his role in the Force’s set piece dominance as well. The Vikings’ Darcy Swain was again close to their best and pushed for selection as well.
4 Connor Vest (Sydney Rays) – 1st
In combination with his Rays locking partner, Nick Palmer, Vest was exceptional for Sydney as they pushed the Drua all the way on Sunday. Vest sneaks selection because of the impact he made on attack and because of many of the countless tackles he made were seriously impactful. He pushed the line from a discipline perspective, but the intensity he brought to his game clearly shocked the Fijians early and they only just recovered.
3 Ruan Smith (Brisbane City) – 1st
The Smith twins were simply outstanding on the weekend. Ruan at tighthead anchored a dominant Brisbane scrum that was a cornerstone of the visitor’s victory. Once again it was the work that he did around the field that really stood him apart. When he wasn’t snaffling turnovers, he was making charging runs and looking for off-loads. He also threw in a sublime pass to his winger Con Foley who then passed inside to Karmichael Hunt for Brisbane to score a crucial try.
2 Mahe Vailanu (NSW Country Eagles) – 1st
Once again there were numerous candidates for this week’s hooking position. Anaru Rangi was again impactful for the Rising while John Sauni had a busy first run for the Rays. But the player who caught my eye the most was NSW Country’s Melbourne-based rake, Vailanu. Perhaps he was fired up because his last start for the Eagles resulted in a 60 point drubbing, but the man was an absolute wrecking ball. He pulled off a couple of absolute bell ringers and was part of a Eagles scrum that dominated the Vikings early on.
1 JP Smith (Brisbane City) – 3rd
Like his twin brother, JP put in the hard yards by playing the full 80 minutes against the Rising on the weekend. This was despite the two turning the Brisbane scrum into a weapon and pretty much the lone advantage for the first half of the game. JP gave Wallaby squad member Jermaine Ainsley a torrid time in the scrum in what was one of the highlights of the game. His work rate across the park was equally impressive and made the impact at scrum time all the more remarkable.