No time for a big intro blurb this week just to say the TOTW is dominated by three teams who had massive wins on the weekend, with a single inclusion of one player from the other winning team and a sole ‘loser’. Here we go.
Two tries to a front rower is always an eye-catching performance. Sione made his return to the Vikings on the weekend and his massive frame meant he was always going to stand out, one way or the other, against the Drua. His tries were perfect prop tries made even more impressive by the power he displayed in getting through a crowded defensive unit close to the line. Sione was also busy around the field while being part of a strong scrumming unit. For the Rays, in a losing outfit, big Dave Lolohea had some good impact on the ball and pulled off a couple of big hits..
The man, who my daughter insists is actually Maui from the movie Moana, was almost Dwayne Johnson levels of awesome on the weekend. Another great example of the fantastic depth WA Rugby has produced in certain positions, Rangi was everywhere for Perth against Brisbane. Perhaps the set piece is still a work in progress but the impact he has around the park is significant. The other hooker worth mentioning is the unheralded Alex Casey for QLD Country who has impressed with his limited field time this season and did again with his first start..
Another of those categories this week where there was no real stand outs. Taniela reaps the benefit of having such a prominent running game. It was there for all to see against the Rising as he made a number of strong runs and line breaks. Impressively he scored an important try, early in the second half, to give his team the first points after the break. The try was a powerful effort close to the line through the heart of the Rising forward defense.
Country Head Coach Brad Thorn has gone with a couple of teenagers in the lock spots for his last two games. It’s a fair vote of confidence in both Hockings and Angus Blythe and we’ve seen the potential payoff. Hockings is a super talented footballer with a big heart and instinctive understanding of the game. His physicality isn’t quite there yet but it is early days. He could do well to watch the way Richie Arnold, of the Spirit, using his body to impose himself on the match. One of the most improved players of the competition Richie had some big moments in his side’s big win over Brisbane.
Like Hockings, Swain is another representative of this year’s national Under 20s team and a recent signing by their respective Super Rugby team. The two metre plus Swain has been outstanding this NRC partnering at various times with the experienced Sam Carter or Blake Enever. Every time he’s held his own and contributed significantly to his team. Twenty tackles against the Drua is perfect evidence of this. That man Tom Staniforth was at it again on the weekend with a terrific workrate against the Rays..
The injury last week to Ben Hyne necessitated the relocation of Valetini from No 8 to blindside flanker. The change of position didn’t slow him down though as he put in another powerful performance. With Cusack dominating at openside, and with support from No 8 Lolo Fakoasiliea, the Viking backrow had it all over the Fiji combination who had enjoyed such success of late. Kudos must go to Perth product, Tevin Ferris, who had a significant impact in his Spirit run on debut.
The Viking performance on the weekend was simply outstanding. Sure the Drua weren’t at their best, but I reckon much of that was because the Vikings didn’t allow them to be. At the forefront of their performance was their skipper, Tom Cusack. Sure there were the tries (three of them) but it was his impact across the park, on both sides of the ball, that was so critical to the victory. Liam Wright of QLD Country continues to impress with his turnover ability and work rate in defense.
This was a tough selection to make which is a big call considering how fantastic Naisarani was in Perth’s win over Brisbane. But it was a round for the 8 men with the vast majority putting in outstanding performances. For the Vikings Lolo Fakaosilea worked tirelessly in probably his best match at this level; for QLD Country, Caleb Timu is showing glimpses of the ability that had previous coaches describe him as our next Toutai Kefu; For the Rising Rob Leota was powerful across the park in a losing side; Sam Ward of the Eagles was a dynamo let down by a dumb yellow card, and Hugh Sinclair of the Rays was everywhere in an action packed performance.
Ruru is back for his third call up to the GAGR NRC TOTW. It’s interesting to note that each of his selections have corresponded with the three Perth Spirit victories, indicating just how valuable Ruru is in this team. Our Perth ‘corresponded’ describes Ruru’s game as that of a ninth forward, which is a credit to his preparedness to do the hard work in tight. But he has a fantastic instinct for the game which works in well with his delightful pass and considered running game. Meanwhile up in Queensland, the Country scrumhalf James Tuttle continues to impress with his own all-round game and was a standout against the Rising.
Stewart’s form for QLD in the National Under 20s made him a sure thing for the Aussie team to compete at the Junior World Cup. While there he showed only glimpses of the same form and played limited rugby on his return. However he’s hit this NRC season at the top of his game and has been a key factor in QLD Country’s top the table position. There was more of the same against the Rising, in an interesting match-up with young Jack McGregor. Stewart’s all round game, most particularly his kicking game and his defensive work, gave him a solid points decision.
Take a look at the NRC team stats on the Rugby.com.au web site and you’ll see how dominant this Perth City side is in most of the attacking areas. The takeaway is clearly the intent the team is playing this year, but also how much someone like Peni must enjoy being a part of it. On top of the two tries he scored against Brisbane on the weekend, his personal attack stats were sensational. And they needed to be as Andy Muirhead of the Vikings was bloody good for them on Friday night while Latu Latunipulu of the Rays was a real danger man on the limited occasions he got the ball.
It’s the confidence and calmness in Paia’aua’s play at the moment which is so impressive this NRC. The skill level we’ve seen developing over recent years, although the physicality he brings to the centres has been a pleasant surprise. But these other qualities, those which saw him awarded the captaincy duties despite his youth, are the ones that indicate his chance in the Wallaby squad can’t be too far away. I know we’ve got Beale and Hunt as Wallaby contenders for the 12 jersey, but Dunc can’t be far away..
Newsome has been one of the standout players for the NSW Country Eagles as they work to rediscover their 2016 NRC form. No such problems for Newsome who used last year’s tournament to catapult him into a Super Rugby contract for the Force. The utility back, who has featured in multiple positions for the Eagles so far, has shown the benefit of that professional rugby structure and was at it again against the Rays including a memorable solo try. Chris Feauai-Sautia was damaging again for QLD Country.
The former soccer player has been a revelation for QLD Country on the wing this season. After a belated start to the NRC, due a suspension gained while playing for his club team Wests, Daugunu’s form has been breathtaking. He scored a hat trick of tries and threw in a couple of conversions (and a yellow card) into the mix in a busy weekend. What about the play of young Clay Uyen this last couple of weeks? We saw his running class this week to go with his defensive quality.
The only ‘loser’ to make the TOTW this round which is saying something, particularly as his team was spanked by the Perth Spirit. Perhaps it was the familiar territory (Ngamanu was raised in WA) as the City fullback played like he had spiders on him as the Perth team struggled to contain him. Jack Maddocks was similar for the Rising and Tom Banks’s brace for the Vikings was all class.