We saw three absolute blow outs in Round 7 this week with the Vikings putting 70 on the Rays while the two Queensland teams both put half centuries on their opponents. Meanwhile, in the Grand Final re-match, we had a nil-all first half before the Eagles battled hard to earn their 15-10 win. Talk about each end of the spectrum!
It made it bloody tough to pick a Team of the Week this round, especially when you consider the different conditions each game was played in, particularly in Brisbane. There were other factors too such as quality of the opposition and whethr it was a home or away game. Anyway….let’s get to it. This week’s Team of the Week is:
The Eagles victory over the Spirit was not born from a brilliant attacking performance, but from raw aggression. That aggression started in the front row and from their captain Paddy Ryan. The Waratah front rower make not have the best stats of the match but he was a physical presence in all aspects of the game, particularly in the first half when the Eagles seemed to put their more acclaimed opposition off their normal game in a confrontational performance.
The Brisbane City skipper has had a disappointing year after a 2016 filled with promise. Awarded the GAGR Player of the Match, he was on the spot for two tries from close range but it was, once again, his work at the breakdown that showed his class. Labelled by the commentators by one of the best breakdown forwards in Australia, it’s Ready all action game that sees him at his best. New Wallaby squad member Folau Faingaa scored two of his own tries in a dominant Viking forward pack.
The scrum doctor was back playing rugby again and must have loved the chance to play a full 80 after so many bench appearances for the Wallabies of late. His quality was evident from the start though as he was the anchor of a strong first half scrummaging performance by the Eagles and strong presence across the park. He ran effectively and tackled tirelessly. His opposite number, Jermaine Ainsley, scored a try to remember but was out-scrummed by the Eagles skipper.
Having made his return to NRC last weekend, the Wallaby test lock Arnold was a hell of a lot more of a presence this week. Unfortunately for the Sydney Rays they were on the receiving end of another clinical Vikings performance with Rory at the forefront. He and his locking partner (and Blake Enever at blindside) ruled the lineout and handed his team an attacking platform inside the red zone. Arnold’s running and passing game continues to impress as well and is a niche aspect of his game. Tom Staniforth’s workload for the Eagles again caught the eye
Carter was brilliant for the Vikings in a wonderful team performance. The GAGR Player of the Match ruled the kick off restarts, was a big part of the dominant scrum and helped set the dominance at the lineout which saw his team score at least three tries directly from it. His work in attack was particularly effective as he ran powerfully through the Rays pack. Matt Phillip, of the Spirit, was again excellent in his team’s loss to the Eagles
Much like Ryan, O’Reagan’s post-match stats don’t give the full story as to the impact he had on this match. The unheralded backrower was a disruptive pest in all contests across the Scully Park turf against Perth. O’Reagan’s scrapping was one of the key factors in the Eagles managing to take Isi Naisarani out of the game better than any team has this NRC season. Young Angus Scott-Young continues to impress as part of a very balanced QLD Country backrow.
The Viking skipper was at it again on the weekend and every week makes the ACT Brumby backrow, next year, tougher and tougher to pick. With Naisarani and Pocock givens, Cusack is making every post a winner to make that remaining jersey his. It’s a big call, considering the season he’s had, but this may have been his best game of the season so far. Clearly relishing the free running play of his team, Cusack also clearly loves the tough stuff in tight and makes an impact in both aspects of the game. Maclean Jones, of the Eagles, and Michael Gunn, of Brisbane City, probably also had their best games of the NRC this year
It’s been a big week for Sam Ward that started with him officially being announced in the Barbarians side to take on the Classic Wallabies and Wallabies in a week or so’s time. He then put in a huge performance for the Eagles as they shut down the free flowing Spirit and took some sort of redemption for the Grand Final loss of last year. He match Naisarani through the match and set the intent for the Eagles approach early, and often. Caleb Timu’s game continues to come on in leaps and bounds and he was excellent for QLD Country again on the weekend.
Many forget that Tuttle bore the weight of the QLD Country leadership for the past two years as they struggled to establish their impact on the competition. It was a big ask for someone so young, and the removal of these responsibilities this year seems to have freed him up substantially. He’s taken on the responsibility of goal kicking, which he’s performing admirably. More importantly he’s running the team as any good 9 should. His marshalling of his pack and linking with his backline has been exceptional and a big part of QLD Country’s success this year.
Hawera no doubt benefitted from playing behind a completely dominant and free running pack. Regardless I get a real kick out of watching a flyhalf who’s first instincts is to take the ball forward in attack before releasing his backline. The kiwi Brumby took on the line himself on many occasions, and mostly effectively, while he also provided the space for his backline (and free running forwards) to tear holes in the Rays defence. Hamish Stewart, of QLD Country, was again very impressive nonetheless for his abrasive tackling style in which he rarely shies away from taking on a bigger opponent. While in Tamworth, Tayler Adams‘ second half spurred his team onto a well deserved win over the 2016 Premiers.
More than 200 running metres; 5 clean breaks, 8 defenders beaten and of course a hat trick of tries. Not a bad days out for a winger. A bloody incredible days out for a winger playing in conditions more suitable for bog snorkelling than rugby. Fidow was simply brilliant and lit up the Wests Bulldogs oval on a dark and wet Sunday afternoon. His finishing was perfection and he once again showcased the incredible speed he has. Has apparently drawn interest from Samoan test selectors, which could only be expected given his form this year. Izzy Perese did some brilliant stuff of his own for QLD Country. None of it could match Fidow though.
A Wallaby call up was only a matter of time for arguably the stand out player of the NRC this season. And while the call up is purely as a ‘Development Player’, Paia’aua’s full Wallaby selection cannot be far away. While he may not have the speed of Beale he is proving to be an absolute magician in attack and is a wiz at creating space for his outside men. The other big play be pulled off repeatedly on the weekend was a big tackle and ball steal all on the same action. He lead to at least one try for Queensland Country as their skipper lead the way in a big away win. Vikings utility, James Dargaville, had a big match against the Rays crossing for two, and going close a couple more times as well.
I don’t know if it’s Brad Thorn’s coaching (or Paul Carozza’s for that matter…), Duncan Paia’aua’s quality inside him, or the fact he’s played bugger all rugby this year, but Feauai-Sautia has been in career best form this year. This was the player we were promised. It’s no longer just the strong running game that is his go to. His strategic vision is evident as he picks and chooses the moments to inject himself. If more impressively his skill, so often bemoaned by critics (like me), have improved as evidenced by his impressive 20m left to right pass to but Filipo Daugunu’s across for yet another try.
How much of Fidow’s brilliance on Sunday came as a reaction to the sensational efforts of Daugunu for QLD Country on Saturday? The two club team mates are both rumoured to be competing for a Super Rugby squad spot with the Queensland Reds and Daugunu has set the bar high after Fidow’s class in Round 1. The Fijian flyer scored an NRC Record equalling four tries against the Rams at TG Milner Park which was impressive considering he spent 10 in the bin for a dangerous tackle. Like Fidow, he has interest hovering from his national team, but unlike Fidow he hasn’t committed to them as yet. Whichever way he goes, let’s all just enjoy him for the rest of this NRC.
Maddocks wins the consolation prize of being picked in the TOTW despite his team losing. In fact he’s the only player in a losing team to get the guernsey. Maddocks had it all against him on the weekend. He was playing in atrocious conditions against a Wallaby three quarter line and a brilliant winger and he still showed his class. He impressed throughout the game, despite the conditions and score two late tries as late as anyone possibly could score. Tom Banks, of the Vikings, relished the countless opportunities he was dished up in the big win over the Rays.