NRC Team of the Year - Green and Gold Rugby
National Rugby Championship

NRC Team of the Year

NRC Team of the Year

With the Grand Final in Tamworth this weekend what better time is there glance back at the 2016 Buildcorp NRC season and look at some of its best individual performers. So let’s get to it and name our Green and Gold Rugby NRC Team of the Year for 2016, on the way revealing our NRC Player of the Year, as voted by our GAGR correspondents who covered each match of this year’s tournament.

1 Pettowa Paraka – Brisbane City

McInnes Wilson Brisbane City vs Western Sydney Rams at Ballymore Stadium on 3rd of September in the 2016 NRC
Brisbane didn’t perform to the levels that NRC fans have come to expect this year. In fact they didn’t even have the scrum strength of years past either. But one player who continued to produce the goods was their big bullocking loose head prop. While the scrum rarely got bettered, Paraka’s work around the park was magnificent with powerful running, clever distribution, strong defence and an uncanny ability to snaffle a turnover, Pettowa is our #1 number one for 2016. Closest Contender: Paddy Ryan (Eagles)

2 Tolu Latu – NSW Country Eagles

Tolu Latu may well be the first player to force his way into the Wallaby squad on the back of his NRC form. While he was solid for the Tahs in ‘16, it was his work for the Eagles that had him promoted ahead of Andrew Ready to the Wallabies when Tatafu Polota-Nau was injured. And fair enough too. Latu brought the muscle to a team that thrived on playing a high-paced, skilful game. That’s not to say Latu couldn’t keep up as his running and off-load game was at the core of many an attacking Eagles’ play this year. Closest Contender: Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Rams)

3 David Lolohea – Western Sydney Rams

Monster prop, David Lolohea.
At 130kg and change, you wouldn’t expect the NRC would be the competition for this Mt Druitt product to shine. But just as the Rams caught many by surprise with their competitiveness and development throughout the tournament, so too did their man wearing 3. It’s fair to say that the Rams scrum held up against all comers this year, and often dominated with Lolohea leading the way on the tight head side. He also produced an all-round game that modern props must including, as with Paraka, a number of pressure relieving pilfers, together with a committed running game and some deft ball skills. Closest Contender: Taniela Tupou (QLD Country)

4 Ned Hanigan – NSW Country Eagles

NSWC Eagles Ned Hannigan scores CEPS16122 - Karen Watson (1)

Photo Credit: Karen Watson

The site of Hanigan’s golden locks flying around the rugby field has become one of the iconic images of this NRC. Hanigan has been in absolutely everything for the Eagles this year and is a significant factor in their reaching the Grand Final this weekend. Unfortunately Ned won’t be joining them due to an ankle injury in round 7, but it won’t take from the impact he has had this year. Hanigan has been a master in the lineout with as sure as hands as anyone going around. In general play he throws himself into anything on both sides of the ball whether is a free running ball carrier, or as a rugged defender. Closest Contender: Ross Haylett-Petty (Spirit)

5 Lukhan Tui – Brisbane City

20161002_0957_Lukhan Tui during NRC 2016 Rd6 on Oct 2 2016 in Perth, Australia. Photo- Johan Schmidt Photography

Photo- Johan Schmidt Photography

Tui was perhaps one of the surprise packets of the season in the NRC. Despite coming through the ‘rugby season’, albeit in a rather abbreviated format, and even making his Super Rugby debut this season, Tui caught many on the hop with his performances for Brisbane. It was a season he proved his wares against established and experienced players, and came out trumps. Rarely has Australian rugby seen such a large specimen who uses his physical advantage so effectively. With some rough edges to work on in his tackling, he never shirked from the workload and produced countless hit ups for his side, running for many metres. Closest Contender: Sam Jeffries (Rising)

6 Sam Figg – NSW Country Eagles

Sam Figg NSW Country v Rising
Sam Figg has decided to forgo a 7s contract to test his luck at snaffling a 15s contract and the 2016 NRC season could not have been a better showcase of his abilities. Figg started the season on the bench for the Eagles but through sheer weight of performance he soon found himself in the starting side. Relying heavily on his 7s fitness, Figg was a constant force for the Eagles producing an enviable work rate as well as an uncanny ability to make a break. The site of his curly do flying down the field was a regular one for NRC watchers and one typical of the impact Figg brought to the competition this year. Closest Contender: Tom Staniforth (Vikings)

7 Tupou Sopoaga – Western Sydney Rams

Tupou Sopoaga tries to shrug off a tackler.

Tupou Sopoaga tries to shrug off a tackler.

Tupou is one of those players the NRC is designed for. There’s no doubting his rugby credentials (former NZ schoolboy rugby star, brother of Lima) but most Aussies probably weren’t aware of him. After a couple of seasons battling away in the NRL, Sopoaga burst into the spotlight this season with a crucial role to play for the Rams. While not the Aussie styled on-baller, Sopoaga’s running and distribution game was a standout feature in the physical Rams pack. He made plenty of metres ball in hand, but also had the uncanny ability to keep the ball alive and keep the attacking pressure on. No word on a Super Rugby contract for next year, but let’s hope someone kept room for him in their squad. Closest Contender: Rowan Perry (Eagles)

8 Tyrone Viiga – Western Sydney Rams

WS Rams Tyrone Viiga RQC1627 - Karen Watson

Photo Credit: Karen Watson

Viiga finished the season as equal runner up in the GAGR NRC Player of the Year award and was the competition’s equal leading try scorer (with Jack Gordon). The former Cronulla Shark was a dominant force in a pack that out-muscled many of its highly regarded opponents. With a similar background to Sopoaga (in fact both played for Cook Islands in the 2013 rugby league World Cup), Viiga in the NRC was the line bending Number 8 that Australian Rugby supporters have been pining for of late. As for Sopoaga, there’s no word yet on a Super Rugby contract, but this one seems a lay down misere. He just has to be picked up and provided the opportunity to blossom at the next level. Closest Contender: Isi Naisarani (Brisbane)

9 Matt Lucas – Sydney Rays

Matt Lucas distributing the pill.

Matt Lucas distributing the pill.

I know Jake Gordon has got a lot of press from this NRC, and he has been fantastic, but in my eyes Matty Lucas is close to the MVP of the tournament and in fact was equal runner up (with Viiga) in the GAGR NRC Player of the Year. I say that because I think he was such a crucial part of the Rays’ success. No so much as a dominant player, but in terms of how he brought the team together both as a player and a captain. Lucas was just so central to the success that was the Rays’ year and his match control and intellect was on show week in week out. The crisp pass, the crafty left boot, the courageousness in defence, the leadership. Lucas was the full package at 9 this season and would be my captain for this team. Closest Contender: Jake Gordon (Eagles)

10 Jono Lance – Perth Spirit

Jono Lance loads up a left to right pass.
So dominant was Jono Lance this year for Perth that many felt the Spirit would fall in a lump this past weekend without him. As it eventuated Ian Prior stood up and put in a man of the match performance but that shouldn’t take from the dominance that was Lance this year. Lance is officially the GAGR Player of the NRC this year with a four point lead over Lucas and Viiga in 2nd place. Lance won the Buildcorp NRC Player of the Year award last year for the Eagles, and the switch of clubs failed to slow him down one bit as he started 2016 how he finished last year. Injury plagued him somewhat along the way, but whenever he played he was central to the success of the Spirit this season. Closest Contender: Angus Sinclair (Rays)

11 Reece Robinson – NSW Country Eagles

Reece R
Robinson took a little while to find his way in the NRC this year, although still showed plenty of class in those early encounters. But when the Eagles lost their fullback Andrew Kellaway in the second round, it was like Robinson knew he had to step up. From thereon we saw more involvement across the park and a greater confidence in his play. He even managed a match at fullback against Queensland Country, and he excelled in a losing team. The tournament has proven invaluable to his development as a player and all at Waratahs HQ should be thrilled with his progress. Closest Contender: Marcel Brache (Spirit)

12 Irae Simone – Sydney Rays

Irae Simone shapes to pass.

Simone goes down as probably the find of the tournament after a Shute Shield campaign that saw him win a premiership with Norths and take home the Rookie of the Year award. The former South Sydney Rabbitoh turned his back on a professional league career to prove himself in rugby in Australia and his form for Norths and now the Rays has resulted in a development contract with the Waratahs. His line bending (and breaking) abilities combined with a sublime off-load game proved a danger for any opposition centre combination. It’s the type of form that has many Tah fans mouth-watering at the prospect of a potent centre combination with Israel Folau next year. Closest Contender: Duncan Paia’aua (QLD Country)

13 Izaia Perese – Queensland Country

QLDC's Izaia Perese on the run PQC1650 - Karen Watson

Photo Credit: Karen Watson

No player beat more defenders in this year’s NRC than Perese did for QLD Country. That’s despite him missing two matches with injury and starting a third off the bench. It’s a remarkable statistic but one that pretty well encapsulate the season he produced. Perese had the type of season that only Samu Kerevi has had in the past and it has Queensland, and Australian, supporters a tad excited. It didn’t matter if it was running out wide, or taking on the pack, Perese was bloody hard to stop. He also put on some massive hits in defence meaning he’s no target out wide himself. Closest Contender: Bill Meakes (Spirit)

14 Harry Jones – Sydney Rays

Harry Jones prepares to fend Jono Lance.
Jones has been an NRC stand out for a few years now, despite switching between a few different clubs. As you’d hope to see it was his maturity that stood out this year and you would hope that recognition, via a Super Rugby opportunity (or Aussie 7s), would come before too long. A regular on the wing in all but one Rays game this season, Jones proved himself more than just a finisher by creating opportunities for team mates as well. That’s not to deflect from his own finishing abilities, as we saw firsthand with a brilliant try in the semi-final on the weekend. Closest Contender: Tom English (Rising)

15 Tom Banks – Queeensland Country

Tom Banks switching on the afterburners.

It does seem a little odd to have two players from the bottom placed team in this Team of the Year, let alone both in the backline. But QLD Country’s attacking play was never in question (they made the most clean breaks and ran for most metres than any other team). Banks was a large chunk of that success and was a constant threat from the back for his team. He led the league for metres made and brought back memories of Chris Latham with his ability to effectively chime into the backline. He also produced a number of vital try-savers in cover as well. Closest Contender: Manihera Eden (Spirit)

Cover photo credit: Credit ARU Media / Stu Walmsley
  • RugbyReg

    My own questions (for myself)

    – 4 players from QLD teams despite coming last and 2nd last?
    – only one Spirit player despite being in the GF?
    – no Rising players despite being in the finals.
    – whats with your Rams love?

    • jamie

      At least Skelton wasn’t there…

    • Dave Beat

      I thought the same, RAMS how?

      • RugbyReg

        Which Manly players would you have instead Dave?

        • Dave Beat

          Thought spirit and rising may of had a few more.

        • RugbyReg

          like who? Give me your team?

        • jamie

          I can’t remember which lock (Jeffries or Cummins) but whichever Rising lock that destroyed one of the country eagles players in their 32-30 game earlier in the season. Cummins I’m fairly certain, had a great season. Although the question then is which lock do you leave out?

        • RugbyReg

          Sam Jeffries had a wonderful tournament. He was listed above as a close contender for Tui’s spot. Agree,

        • Reg, this season due to commitments i did not get to watch enough of it to provide a team in which i could justifiably back up in a debate. When going through the team provided I thought wow there are allot of Rams players I wonder why they were not in the finals. I like teams like this that are based on performance and not PR reputation – my comment in this instance was based on thought that all.

        • RugbyReg

          they finished just outside the finals and were harmed by not having a backline that clicked until they found the right combinations with about 4 matches to go. Then they began their finals run which included beating QLD COuntry, Melbourne Rising and getting within 4 of the Eagles (the GFists). Actually they got within 6 of the Spirit too.

          As Working Class Rugger confirms above, they were the dominant pack of the comp and their hooker was unlucky to make the team too.

        • RobC

          Agree Reg. Rams are a great team, their fan engagement was looking good and improving

          NRC regular season should be at least a dozen games long,

        • Working Class Rugger

          They also lost three games prior to breaking their duck by less than 8 points. In fact, it could be argued had the coaching staff caught on to what a number of the G&GR crew had been calling for from week one (Walton at 10 and Asquith at 12) it could have very plausibly have been three NSW teams in the finals.

      • Working Class Rugger

        It would have been a travesty if THE dominant pack in the competition didn’t get at least the three they did in the pack. They pushed everyone around, Lolohea was a force in both the set piece and open play, Viiga was the form 8 (though in a close race with Naisarani) and Soapaga reminds me a lot of George Smith. They all earned their spots.

        I’m happy enough with the team. Tough call on Gordon but I think you hit the nail on the head regarding his importance to the Rays.

    • Xaviera

      Fair questions all. I suspect your QLD selections are because you watched every match involving a QLD team, which I can understand, especially if self-flagellation is your thing, as it has been for QLDers in recent times. While many will remember the blow-out scores, there were plenty of close matches too, so a number of teams had woulda/coulda/shoulda moments, which could explain some of your Rams love.

      Meanwhile, Spirit have been under the radar and had very few real names. A bit like the Rays really. Sadly, the Rays lost some cattle early, but I’d like to think that had Richard Wolf played the entire tournament, he would have been on one wing. The Rays’ pigs were unsung, but got the job done. Damien Fitzpatrick’s work-rate was immense, and he scored tries, whereas the two you have named ahead of him are more impact players. I doubt either made 20 tackles in a match once, let alone more than that.

      The Rising are probably wondering about the one that got away. Probably the closest to a full Super Rugby side, they should really have done better, but their big names were hot and cold, which is both a coach’s and selectors’ nightmare, so fair to see them omitted. Your honourable mention for Tom English was deserved.

      So sad that it is almost over. Oh well, will have to make do with a Bledisloe and a Grand Slam tour.

      • RugbyReg

        I actually watched probably 95% of the games, so not just the QLD games, but get what you are saying. I guess I know those players better regardless.

        I actually think the Spirit played really well as a team which meant players didn’t stand out as individuals. Stander and Hardwick were fantastic but they came to fruition at the end of the season. RHP only played the last half too. Morahan was excellent every game, but I think he only played 2.

        they had great prop depth and I went close to Vui being back up THP over Tupou but the Thor was his team’s first choice 3 in the end and Vui wasn’t.

        The Rising is an interesting one. English and Jeffries were their best. Perhaps Ben Meehan, but Lance was the standout 10 for mine. Jordy Reid was excellent too and would’ve gone close but it was hard to fit him in.

      • Braveheart81

        I think the Qld players chosen were fair choices and probably explains the frustrations with those teams. Queensland Country made line breaks at will and often looked fantastic with ball in hand. They however failed to convert their opportunities with enough regularity and fell out of games for periods of time which cost them immensely. One thing that seemed prevalent throughout the NRC was the ability for teams to score two or three tries in quick succession and this seemed to happen against Qld Country fairly frequently.

        Paraka and Tui were outstanding for Queensland City but their backline didn’t do the damage it needed to.

        I really feel like this year was a big step up overall for the whole competition. Teams at the tail end of the field were substantially better than in the first two years.

    • Jack Mallick

      The Spirit had four runners-up which probably explains it best – five players total in contention for team of the tournament sounds about right.

      Plus there are others who’d be mentioned in dispatches. Tapuai and Tessman have been solid in all games plus the front row (both of them!) as previously mentioned. I’ve enjoyed watching Tapuai get some running in the legs after a series of disrupted seasons.

      • RugbyReg

        Agree in particular about Benny Taps. It was a good reminder to see how good he is.

  • SuckerForRed

    Good looking team there.
    Is the Barbarians tour happening again this year? And if so, when will it be announced?

    • RugbyReg

      nothing has been announced yet. Think the kiwis didn’t want to get beaten again

    • Bay35Pablo

      As one wag suggested, do an NRC BaaBaa tour of Fiji!

  • Pedro

    I think Jake Gordon was ripped off, but I accept your reasoning for putting Lucas ahead of him.

    Looks about right overall, I’m glad I didn’t have to make those tough calls though.

  • AB

    great to see the NRC beginning to bear fruit in terms of players to be excited about as possible Super Rugby players and maybe even Wallabies. I was only able to watch very limited games but really liked what I saw of Irae Simone, obviously he is very big but also has a beautiful passing game – it would be great to see him blossom in the centres with Izzy next year. Interesting article on him battling depression in the Telegraph today-

    I hope our Super Teams have good support structures in place for this sort of thing….

    • Pedro

      I don’t think Simone is all that big, he’s just slippery.

      • AB

        He’s listed as 1.93m tall and 105kgs – which is pretty big for a 12 – certainly a lot bigger then Bernard Foley!

        • Pedro

          Fair enough then, he must just be well proportioned because I’ve been next to him a fair few times and I never thought he was that size.

        • jamie

          Reckon most of it would be in the legs then.

  • Nick

    The sad thing is I recon this side would probably beat the current wallabies…

    • david baldwin

      Was thinking the exact same thing

    • Jack Mallick

      No they wouldn’t. They’d get flogged senseless for God’s sake

    • jamie

      Not even close.

      • Kevino

        Don’t know, this back line would not have any trouble opening up the Wallabies backs.

        Would lose in the front row, contest/win at the line out. Lose in the back row.

        Win in the half’s and inside center channel.

    • @NRC_Australia

      Yep I reckon the same…

    • Keith Butler

      In your dreams

    • John Tynan

      You’re dreamin’ son.

  • Lee Grant

    Top selections Reg and the commentary was spot on too.

    This was year three of the five-year period I thought was needed to see the competition mature and I think it is well on track. Defensive reads and in-time realignment are still behind the natural attacking flair of the Aussie game but I trust that will catch up.

    As for the players you chose: there are some great stories there:

    3. David Lolohea – has been a nice surprise. With Will Skelton he was an overweight kid that was part of that 2010 Hills Sports High pack of 923kgs that was 30kgs heavier than the Waratahs’ pack of that season. I remember his playing LHP for West Harbour and Cheika took him on the two-match Waratahs’ tour of Argentina in 2013. He faded from any contention after that and in the Shute Shield looked like a skillful big league player who could use his hands; but now he looks like he has stepped up in other attributes, though still overweight.

    4. Lukhan Tui – we first saw him in Sydney playing no.8 for CHS IIs at Curugal in 2014 in the NSW Schools’ trials – after just a handful of rugby games and even fewer league games. He was like a force of nature and he was one I hoped we could keep in town. He has moved around a bit in his short time in union – club to club, and state to state. I hope he doesn’t keep moving and we can keep him in the country as he is the type of player that the French clubs will be all over. They would certainly have noticed him in the World U20s this year and last year.

    6. Sam Figg – suffered a long term injury in Sevens and was out for a while. I know he made the NRC Baas team last year but I can’t remember his being as good as he was this season.

    7. Tupou Sopoaga – we know his brother of course – but I knew zero about this lad prior to to the NRC this year and it just proves how the NRC can showcase these players.

    8. Tyrone Viiga – didn’t remember him from the last club season to be honest but what a find (for me at least). I’m not a big fan of importing from the league game but it’s good to see a league forward bringing the attributes of that code to union and not just another winger.

    12. Irae Simone – wow. It’s hard to judge players from club rugby especially after they have arrived from the other code but it appears that he is better suited to union based on the opinion of a Bunnies fan who watched him in the NRC when he was at our place recently.

    13. Izaia Perese – it’s good to see him perform at his best over several games as he had a catalogue of injuries in his younger days including at school, and his elusiveness in good company is shining out now.

    14. Harry Jones – he’s reading the game better defensively now as we trusted he would and could even move to the fullback position based on this season. He is also reading the defenders better and is more confident of using his supports.

    15. Tom Banks – saw him play Super Rugby but didn’t really know him and he didn’t grab me. But he’s a bit like Dane Haylett-Petty, at the NRC level at least – looks like a meat and potatoes player that does most things right without being flashy – until you notice that a lot of defenders are turning around and chasing him.

    Good piece – thank you Reg.

  • Pclifto

    I have to say I saw very little of this year’s NRC, but by jeez it gets you excited about the future when you read a review like this.

    Nice one GGR

  • Pclifto

    Surely with Matty Lucas playing like he is, he should be given an opportunity for more minutes on the field for the Tahs next year and to have a proper ding-dong with Phipps for starting 9…

  • RobC

    Thanks Reg. Great team.

    I would like to see these players play against the Wallabies, given a little more fitness training.

    In any case imo, Lance should be a WB. Viiga is the 8 that Reds or Brumbies needs, since Isi has gone west.

    I reckon the Eagles form or Rugby much better than the Wallabies. Rays too. If / when Gibbo takes advantage of the NSW offload game, they will be hard to beat.

    Pett Paraka, what an amazing step up. He would fit right into the Eagles, or a Kiwi team.

    I hope Tautai Kefu is included in the QRU / Reds coaching roster permanently. The improvement by the team on weekly basis was visible.

    Havent watched the Rays / Spirit game yet. But I have a feeling it was a game of two different syles

    • Pedro

      The rays spirit game was more about the rays making uncharacteristic handling errors than much else. Also losing a bunch of players the week before and during the first quarter didn’t help.

      • RugbyReg

        yeah that was a big factor, but I think the Spirit played a more Super Rugby styled grinding game whereby they worked themselves into a position to get points and then did so. The Rays played a more club style and tried to strike whenever reliant on their big name players.

  • John Tynan

    Thanks for the write up Reg. While it’s easy to make compelling arguments for alternatives, it is equally hard to argue against your selections. I would like to see the selected team up against the “Closest Contender” Team, I reckon that would be a cracker.

  • Bay35Pablo

    Rays get 2nd with 3 of top XV, same as Rams who missed out. GODAMMNIT WE IS GOOD!!!!!
    I think Simone had the tahs gig before the NRC from memory, but by gum he looks OK. Jones has also been class all 3 years including last year for the unmissed Stars. Lack of wingers at higher levels why when we have blokes like this?!!? Robinson also looks OK after the extra time in NRC, but I am hoping he steps up again at Super level. No bozos on opposing sides there.
    Hanigan has a Tahs gig from memory too, which is good because we need some decent locks and a lineout guru. Mummsie can’t carry the team on his own …… (dry retching). :)
    A few of these blokes won’t get Super gigs and will probably get poached for French division 2 as has happened in previous years.
    When people say Australia doesn’t have enough rugby talent they are wrong. It doesn’t have enough professional teams to nurture what it has. We also tend to be heavy in certain spots (e.g. 7) and not others. The fact we were supposedly short on 9s in Super and Wallabies levels this year yet Lucas and Gordon (and Roos, etc) show we don’t have the production line set up properly.

  • harro

    Mate, I’ve really enjoyed the NRC this year and it’s great to see all the talent coming through (not to mention the number of players that have switched (back) from league). It’s a competition that’s only going to get better and provide great benefit to Aussie rugby in the long run.

    From a Tahs supporter’s point of view, the match time for the players in the squad has been hugely beneficial. Latu, Hannigan, Dempsey, Lucas, Robinson and Simone have all had great seasons. Hopefully we can get Jones, Viiga, Sopoaga, Figg and Lolohea (amongst others) into the system before they’re snapped up overseas.

    Just as important to the competition is the media coverage, and on that front you’ve done a stellar job this year. I’ve enjoyed all your writings and appreciate the effort it takes to watch all matches in order to put together your teams of the week. The quality of the rugby must make it easier but the form of your Qld teams must make it excruciating at times. I reckon you’ve gotten this final team pretty much spot on. Cheers

    • harro

      I should also add that the benefit also extends to the opportunities given to the coaches and referees, two areas where we are severely lacking in depth

    • Bay35Pablo

      If only the “mainstream” media provided some decent coverage of the NRC. Fairfax is more likely to report on unicorn sightings, and the Terror even though part of the News stable had 1 little article on Fiji joining on the Saturday of the semis. I mean “Hello!!!!???”. They’ve paid coin for the rights, why wouldn’t they be cross promoting at least a little to try to get readers to the watch it that weekend on Fox? They cross ormote every other frigging thing in the media nowadays.

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