While the second round of the NRC still produced some wonderful attacking rugby it is fair to say that defence was a lot better across all games. Brad Thorn’s impact on QLD Country was apparent as their tackling was a cornerstone of their first ever win over Brisbane City. Fiji Drua recorded their first ever win in the tournament and while there were some glorious tries scored, their defence was particularly scary to watch. When the Perth Spirit played the Canberra Vikings on the road and the match was noted for the ferocious forward battle rather than the free running play of the backs.
As it is, the Greater Sydney Rams now sit atop the NRC ladder having won both of their opening games while the Vikings sit just a bonus point behind. To further highlight the unique nature of this year’s tournament the new boys, Fiji, are in third place while perennial cellar dwellers, QLD Country, are in 4th spot.
With plenty of fantastic team performances, it only flows that there were some quality individual performers too. Let’s take a look at the best of them.
Veitayaki came off the bench against the Wallabies earlier this year in their test in Melbourne. Other than that I can’t tell you too much about him. What I can tell you was that he put in a monster effort for the Drua in their historic victory over the Melbourne Rising. Joeli scrummed strongly against Wallaby Toby Smith and was a mighty presence around the park. Jed Gillespie had a pretty mighty game for the Rams as well.
If they named an All-Time NRC team then Robbie Abel would have a fair argument to be the starting hooker. He was at his best again on the weekend, scoring an early try for the Vikings and ensuring an absolutely rock solid set piece. I’m not sure why he doesn’t get greater consideration for a test jersey given his pinpoint throwing, strong scrummaging and general play skills. QLD Country reserve Alex Casey deserves recognition for a wonderful cameo from the bench in Noosa.
The Tongan Thor was at his finest up in Noosa as his team won beat their city slicker rivals for the first time ever in the NRC. Perhaps it was the fact that Tongan Language Week was finishing, but Tupou caused consistent headaches for City in both the scrum and in the loose. He scored a memorable try, running onto a delightful Casey inside ball to power his way away to score a critical try.
By pure coincidence there seems to be a rather ‘big human’ theme to my TOTW this week. Mafoau fits the theme rather comfortably. While perhaps technically not the best lock performance of the week, Maufou was arguably the most eye-catching. The teenager measures up at over 200cm tall and around 140kg but his size isn’t an impediment to his abilities as he showed on the weekend against an on-song (and physical) Fijian team. Albert Tuisue from the Rams also provided many a highlight against the Rays.
Captain Carter has stepped down from leadership duties in the NRC and the freedom seemed to unleash a next level game in Sunday’s win over Perth. Carter was a go-to man in the lineout, while also at the centre of many a successful maul defence. He also ran with terrific intent all through the match and deep into the final decisive moments. His opposite number Matt Philip once again impressed with his physical presence.
In what was probably the best team performance of the NRC so far, it was hard to keep up with the stand out Drua players as they built their lead over the young Melbourne Rising team. One of the names that was consistently being called, though, was their experienced blindside flanker. Saqiwa crossed for a couple of tries but was everywhere he was needed by his team throughout the match. His linking play was a particular strength and a vital part of his team’s performance.
It probably wasn’t a standout weekend for opensides. Liam Wright again did some good things for QLD Country and Mosese Voka was busy for Fiji. In the end I’ve opted for Vikings skipper Tom Cusack for his impactful game for the victorious Canberrians. This was Cusack’s first start for the NRC season after missing last week’s opening round and he made up with it in a busy performance particularly in defence against a mighty Spirit pack. You can’t discount his leadership credentials either as he saw his team through the loss of a strong lead to a late match winning try.
I had Isi Naisarani picked in this team about half an hour into Perth’s match against the Vikings. His game never wavered however then Jed Holloway stood up and produced a magnificent performance for the Rams in their second win of the season. Jed seems the type of player that thrives on leadership and plays a real ‘follow me, lads” type of rugby. His impact so far this season has been a significant reason for the Rams position at the top of the NRC ladder.
There was an added intensity in the Queensland Country performance against on the weekend. Normally visitors to Noosa do so to relax and kick back, but it was all business for Tuttle and his team mates. Tuttle, as the most capped QLD Country player, showed all the experience you’d expect with such a record putting aside his still relative youth. Tuttle combined superbly with young flyhalf Hamish Stewart to keep the City players on the backfoot throughout the match.
Nacebe has a produced some big plays for Fiji in their first round loss to Brisbane, where he started at fullback. Moved closer to the action this round I was curious as to whether the increased ball touches would be off-set but the decreased space. I needn’t have worried – Nacebe was brilliant and his attacking play probably unrivalled so far this season. By match end he had contributed 20 points to his team’s efforts including scoring a brace of tries for the second week in a row. Credit to QLD Country’s young Hamish Stewart who put on his finest performance in senior rugby outside Tuttle.
The third Fijian to make the team this week and, not too coincidentally, the third of the two-tryscorers from their win over the Rising. There sure was some talented wingers on display this weekend with Latu Latunipulu from the Rays certainly making a case with some magic at Macquarie Uni. In the end though it was the sheer majesty that was Daveta’s elusiveness and finishing abilities out wide that gave in the selection edge, and caused so much concern for the Rising defence.
12 Sione Tuipulotu (Melbourne Rising) – 2nd
The only player to appear in our TOTW in each of the first two rounds is a fairly handy achievement for such a young player. Focussing on Sione’s youth, however, would be doing him a disservice as he has played with maturity of player far more seasoned so far. With so much young talent in the side, the Rising have needed Tuipulotu to step up and provide a more hardened edge to his team’s attack and defence. Duncan Paia’aua had another good outing in leading his team to their first Andy Purcell Cup win.
Interestingly this is one position where they have been few standout candidates both weeks of the NRC so far. That’s not to belittle this week’s selection who has been very impressive in both Rams victories so far. Pili-Gataeu put on an outstanding performance against the Rays this week, proving to be an excellent finisher in grabbing a try, but also was pivotal in many the Rams’ attacking forays. Another of the Manly connection in this Rams outfit he’s relishing the chance to challenge himself against higher level competition.
There’s no shortage of wing candidates this weekend and Izzy Perese came bloody close to taking this spot after a high action performance for QLD Country. In the end we’ve gone with Naiayavoro who looked like a giant on the field, and busted tackles every time he got the ball. With tries in both games this season, he is one of the most damaging attacking runners in the NRC. His passing game could do some work, with the ‘inside fling’ an all too ready option, but if he keeps breaking the line as he has, then we can overlook that for now.
Last week’s fullback, young Jack Maddocks from the Rising, was again very impressive but suffered as his team were pumped by the Drua. The Fiji skipper, John Stewart, pushed hard for contention in the team but in the end the relatively unknown Turner get’s the gig. The Manly Marlin put on a wonderful display of rugby from the back for the Rays, despite being in the losing side. He snagged a long range try through an intercept and was dangerous from the back throughout the Rays first run of the season.