Perth Spirit claim 2016 NRC Honours - Green and Gold Rugby
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Perth Spirit claim 2016 NRC Honours

Perth Spirit claim 2016 NRC Honours

In a match that more than lived up to the hype and showcased everything good about NRC (and Australian) rugby, Perth Spirit claimed the NRC trophy for 2016 against NSW Country Eagles, winning 20-16 at Scully Park in Tamworth. In a gripping arm-wrestle from start to finish, the Spirit produced one of the most impressive defensive efforts ever seen in the competition’s history (or, for that matter, in any match I have seen), which proved the difference between the sides.

The Build-Up:

There was an aura to this game. Finals footy? In the country? That sure raised an eyebrow or two. But, as this season has shown, the NRC isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill rugby competition. For a competition focused on developing rugby talent, it seemed somewhat appropriate. NSW Country Eagles spruiked this match all week to the country folk, yet, one was expecting a bigger crowd compared to the one that packed into Scully Park for the match. That crowd, however, would not be disappointed with the match they got.

The Country Eagles and Tamworth volunteers did a wonderful job with the set-up, playing the Bledisloe matches on the big screen in the lead up to the game. It was a somewhat awkward start to the final, with players being brought out one-by-one and the national anthem was barely audible due to technical issues. But those brief, sheepish moments were put to the side immediately once the match kicked off on a pitch that looked an absolute treat.

The Match:

It has been so common for us to see the massive try scoring extravaganzas the NRC has become known for. But even the NRC detractors would have been taken in by this match. While both teams seemed awkward off the kick-off, within the first ten minutes it became very clear what kind of match we were in for: a gritty, brutal war of attrition between two evenly matched sides. NSW Country were at their usual, entertaining best, but tonight they came across something different: The Perth Spirit defence.

There was an aggressiveness to the Spirit tonight, something I have never seen in them before. They were up for the challenge. They were focused. And that defensive line meant business. From the get-go, the Spirit were producing hits reminiscent of the ‘Blue Wall’ that the Force had back in 2014. NSW Country were throwing everything they had at them, but that wall stood strong. However, when the Spirit came up with the ball, the Country boys produced several hard hits of their own. And so, the war of attrition begun.

For 30 minutes, the Eagles and Spirit beat the living daylights out of each other, with neither side being able to find the line. Tempers flared up several times. There was passion. Both teams wanted this win bad. It took a mistake from the Eagles to bring the scoreboard to life, with Spirit player Luke Morahan leaping on the ball to score the first try, 6-0.

The Spirit then put scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens away to double their score, but NSW Country were not going to go away quietly. It took their tried-and-trusted try scoring machine, Sam Figg, to get them back in the game with a brilliantly orchestrated try. Both teams traded blows as the game returned to an old-fashioned war of attrition, before referee Nic Berry blew the halftime whistle with the Spirit ahead 12-8.

The second half continued much in the same vein as the first. The battle at scrum time was aggressive, and defence would prove to be the deciding factor in who would win the game. The Spirit got on the board with Louwrens going over for his second try off the scrum, and the men from the west were out to a 20-8 lead.

Then followed what was one of the most impressive defensive efforts I have ever seen. Channeling the Wallabies against Wales in the World Cup last year, the Spirit repelled barrage after barrage of Eagles attack, and were camped inside their 22 for over 10 minutes. Both teams had players sent to the bin. The Eagles were beginning to realise that it was now or never, and emptied their tank in an endless barrage of attacking phases. But the more attacking methods they tried, the more the Spirit were able to come up with the answers. Their defence was disrupting the ball and relentlessly slowing it down. Jake Gordon was shut out of the game by swarming Spirit players. Even Andrew ‘The Fire’ Kellaway could not find a way through. When Perth Spirit skipper Heath Tessmann managed to win back possession, a major moral victory had been achieved.

By this stage, any sense of self-preservation had gone out the window. The Country Eagles were desperate, and it took a special effort in the final ten minutes by Tom Hill to crack the stubborn Spirit defence and get the Country Eagles back to a 4 point margin with 5 minutes to play. How many times have we been in this situation this year? It only seemed fitting that it the Grand Final mirrored it.

But, as they did to the Rams two weeks ago, the Eagles found themselves being ground out by the Spirit defence. When the men from the west forced a turnover, it was all over. And I must say, with all the talk about the fragility of WA rugby, if there was any definitive way to answer those critics, then this was it.

For the Eagles, it was a heartbreaking loss, and the looks on the players faces showed much it meant to them. But in what has been a landmark year for NSW NRC rugby, the Eagles can be proud of their efforts. They gave everything they had and made the Spirit work for that victory. I’m a diehard NSW Country Supporter myself, and I could not have asked for any more from the boys. That was a performance that made me proud to be a NSW Country Eagles supporter. Despite the loss, watching games like this (especially when the Wallaroos and Wallabies got beaten hours before), reminds me (and hopefully, many others) of why we love rugby. The respect shown between both skippers in the post-match speeches was evident of the quality of the game.

But, congratulations to the Spirit. Their giant killing season has come to an end and they more than deserved to have their name on that Toast Rack. Now, that Toast Rack is officially heading to the west for the first time ever! The Piggies are victorious and bring home the bacon! (In all seriousness, can we actually change the Spirit’s name to the Perth Pigs? It’s such a good name!).

If there is any negative to be had, it’s that we now have to wait another ten months before we get to see the NRC again. Bugger.

Final Comments:

This was a match that, to me, summed up the NRC and Australian rugby in general. Yeah, the national anthem was a fail. Yeah, the NRC signage fell down during the presentation. Yeah the crowd was not as big as expected. But no one could deny what they saw was something that restores the faith for many an Aussie rugby fan. The NRC is the walking definition of a battler completion. Yeah, it hasn’t got the money, but you cannot deny the big heart the players bring to this competition.

Over the course of this season, I have been personally blown away with how many people in the rugby community have hoped this competition would fail. Maybe it is to do with the angry mindset directed towards the ARU by those in club rugby, who knows? In this last week, the divisions within Australian rugby have really been placed front-and-centre. To see so many people squabbling about the future of our game is tough to see.

But tonight (as it has all season), the NRC once again showcased its value in the Australian landscape. Players need the experience playing against their interstate counterparts provides. Players need experience playing with Super Rugby and Wallaby experience. Players need this competition to survive. Within the Aussie rugby landscape, the NRC stands as a shining example of what can come about when club rugby and the ARU work together.


The Game Changer

The Perth Spirit defence. In the 47th minute the Eagles went for a scrum, hoping for a pushover try. The Spirit scrum held firm. This begun 10 minutes of ruthless attack and even more ruthless defence. With players being sent to the bin, whoever won this battle would turn out to be the winner of the match. When Spirit skipper Heath Tessmann pounced on the ball for a turnover, the Spirit achieved a moral victory that ensured they won the game.

The GAGR MOTM

Who else? Richard Hardwick for the Spirit. A man of the match performance that capped off what was an impeccable performance by the Piggies forwards. A close second was Country Eagles skipper, Paddy Ryan. All week, Ryan spoke about how the game would be won in the forwards, and he wasn’t wrong. But he led with grit and determination, and kept the Eagles in the game. To round out the Top 3, it must go to none other than Billy Meakes, who grabbed the second half by the scruff of the neck in a defensive performance that would make the Chiropractor proud. He is a solid find for the Force next year, and has really come into his own since moving to the west.

OZ BaaBaa Watch

In all honesty, every single player stepped up this game, so to single one out is a huge disrespect to the rest of the players on the field. But, seeing as I have to, the first I must recognise is Ryan Louwrens from the Spirit, who had an awesome game at scrum-half, grabbing a double for his efforts and being an important link in the Spirit’s wall of defence. For the Eagles, Sam Figg continues time-and-again to impress, and has had two impressive NRC seasons on the trot. Someone, get this man a contract! For god sake! Someone!


The Details

NSW Country: 16


Tries: 2
Figg 37'
Hill 75'

Conv: 2
Deegan (1/1) 37'
Adams (1/1) 75'

Perth: 20


Tries: 3
Louwrens (2) 33', 44'
Morahan 31'

Conv: 1
Tapuai (1/1) 45'
Lance (0/2)
Cards:
Perry 43' – YC
Cards:
Cowan 48' – YC
Stander 64' – YC
Referee: Nic Berry

Attendance: tba


New South Wales Country Eagles: 1. Paddy Ryan (c), 2. Folau Fa’ainga, 3. Sam Needs, 4 .Rohan O’Regan, 5. Tim Buchanan, 6. Sam Figg, 7. Rowan Perry, 8. Sam Ward; 9. Jake Gordon, 10. Andrew Deegan, 11. Alex Newsome, 12. Kyle Godwin, 13. David Horwitz, 14. Reece Robinson, 15. Andrew Kellaway. Replacements: 16. Luke Holmes, 17. Jed Gillespie, 18. Cam Betham, 19. Ryan McCauley, 20. Tom Cusack, 21. Mark Baldwin, 22. Tayler Adams, 23. Tom Hill. Coach: Darren Coleman.

Perth Spirit: 1. Pek Cowan, 2. Heath Tessmann (c), 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Kieran Stringer, 5. Onehunga Havili, 6. Ross Haylett-Petty, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Brynard Stander, 9. Ryan Louwrens, 10. Jono Lance, 11. Semisi Masierewa, 12. Ben Tapuai, 13. Billy Meakes, 14. Marcel Brache, 15. Luke Morahan. Replacements: 16. Anaru Rangi, 17. Laione Mulikihaamea, 18. Shambeckler Vui, 19. Grayson Knapp, 20. Kane Koteka, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. Ian Prior, 23. Eric Vasukicakau. Coach: Dwayne Nestor.

 

Cover photo credit: ARU Media / Karen Watson
  • formerflanker

    Well written. Thank you. A very entertaining game in that all facets of rugby were on display by well-coached players.

  • Chris Bobridge

    Wasn’t Tessmann off fairly early – not sure how he’s credited with great work in the 57thish minute?

  • Unanimous

    I would have watched this if it was on free to air, but it wasn’t, so this article is the best source of info I have. Thanks for the great write-up.

    • Flipper

      Stop being so cheap. Free to air will be dead in a decade. Better get used to reading books, oh but you’d have to buy them as well

  • paul

    The NRC also highlights everything that is wrong with the code here.

    Exactly what is it supposed to be, a development competition for 5 Super teams in a competition(super rugby)that is an utter failure competing against against the other codes. Yet the Syd/Bris comps get 10,000 to there finals.

    We can’t just keep shoving endless rugby content and then expect some sort of miraculous solution.

  • Nutta

    Randoms from the random:

    Great game. Huge effort. Great D and scrap from both mobs

    Silly pre-game.

    How Andrew Kellaway and Kyle Godwin are not a Wobblys is truely mystifying to me

    Spirit deserved to be the victors.

    Thx for your write-ups Nic. For what it’s worth I cannot see how anyone but the blatantly myopic cannot see the value in this competition

    • LoveThePoop

      The pre-game stuff almost tipped me over the edge… it’s convinced me that the aru is incompetent and inefficient… obviously the ARU are all talk when they speak of the value of the NRC… they can’t even organise a grand final pre game and bill pulvar wasn’t even there to present the trophy

      • Rebels3

        I think there was an issue with the sound track. The anthem was played over an iPhone because it wouldn’t work.

      • RugbyReg

        It’s not the ARU’s gig. I know in the last two Grand Finals in Brisbane it was run by the QRU.

        This would have been run by the Eagles (a volunteer run organisation) perhaps with some support from the Waratahs Inc

        • LoveThePoop

          Doesn’t the ARU own the competition and therefore should be running competition?? Of course with help of the state unions and volunteers… but it shouldn’t be left to the volunteers to do all the grunt work and organising etc. it’s great they are there and long may that continue but the ARU should be in charge and doing everything to ensure the product shines

        • RugbyReg

          it doesn’t work like that. QRU put on their games etc.

          It’s just like Super Rugby. SANZAR own the event but each home union put on their match day because they want to put it on how they want to put it on.

          This isn’t one you can blame on the ARU I’m afraid.

        • LoveThePoop

          I understand what your saying but super rugby is played over 5 countries… this a domestic comp… I’m sure the nrl and afl didn’t leave it up to this years finalist to organise the event… I can understand round matches being organised by the host team but I’d still expect the ARU to be keeping a close eye on things… Id spent all week trying to get my nrl watching mates to watch the bledisloe and then the NRC final and despite the wallaby loss they were there ready to watch the NRC final but they lost interest before they’d even finished running the players out and didn’t end up watching more than about 5 mins of the whole match and I’d be confident in saying there were more non rugby purist who were considering watching but changed channels before the game even started… NRC falls under the ARU/Australian rugby brand and the ARU missed an opportunity to show case the game in a positive light straight after a negative one (the wallaby loss) and unfortunately the brilliant rugby that was played on Saturday night would’ve gone fairly unnoticed

      • Bay35Pablo

        Anything goes wrong and it must be the ARU. Goes right and no credit. That’s fair.
        Do you actually understand what goes into organising these things? Go blame them for the weather and be done with.

        • LoveThePoop

          I usually try not be critical of the ARU and I think they have done a few things this year that have been a positive step forward… it just really frustrated me with how unprofessional the start of the game was

  • Wilbur smith

    I was going to go to the game but the 7:45 kick off is too late for young kids and it was raining most of the day. So crowd was not that bad considering.

  • LoveThePoop

    Great game… awesome to see Perth get up and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come in 2017

    I haven’t really bought into the ARU bashing that’s been going on this year but the way that game started is proof that the incompetence is strong in the ARU… The ridiculous 1 by 1 run out of the players was bad enough but then to stuff up the national Atheme as well!! Fucking Amature Hour!! Any none fan of rugby that considered tuning into the NRC final would’ve changed channels well before kick off… it was a complete embarrassment!! I’m not laying blame at anyone from Tamworth that might of been involved in the stuff ups (they were probably volunteering on the night)… I’m wondering how the ARU can not identify the excellent opportunity to have a NRC final straight after a test match and not make sure they have put in place a competent team to make sure Australian rugby is represented in a positive way even if it’s just for the sake of giving Australian rugby fans something good to feel about and confidence that the organisation is making progress towards better days… the players did an excellent job of representing the game, it’s a bloody crying shame that the ARU let them down p.s. Bill Pulvar being all the way over in NZ instead of being there to present the trophy really doesn’t help him in the perception that he cares about the grass roots of the game

  • Muzz

    Mate they should definitely change the Perth teams name to Perth Pigs. It actually means something to them, like how they’re the unfashionable battlers that love to get down and dirty. That’s how I interpreted it anyway. And Nick I was waiting for a headline ‘Pigs in Mud’. Maybe next year.

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      Thought ‘bringing home the bacon’ had a good ring to it. I’ll use it for the Tuesday Top 5 haha

    • Bay35Pablo

      Pigs is a nickname for forwards generally, so nick off nicking that. They should have not given themselves a nickname like Brissie City and QLD Country, and let it come, if Spirit isn’t it.

  • Rebels3

    Great game. Amazing defense Perth. Fantastic season from the eagles, unlucky to go down in the final. Hopefully this is a great starting block to improvement out west. Congratulations to Perth

  • paul

    Interesting Logic,
    you could name a few clubs that have done quite well beyond the narrow club base.

  • RugbyReg

    this is bang on. I know the QRU count the people through the gate on GF day. So while they may announce the GF crowd to be 8,000 (which I think it was this year), at the Premier Grade Grand Final I reckon it would have been lucky to be 5,000. The rest of the crowds were there to watch their clubs earlier in the day and left once their clubs’ commitments were over.

    How many different clubs were represented on the GF day in Sydney at North Sydney Oval? I know there were four different clubs playing in Brisbane on the Sunday.

  • paul

    I could name maybe 200/300 in different codes.

    All i am saying is it pretty much sums up Australian rugby that you could not use the existing strength of some of the foundation clubs. Now I don’t know who’s fault that is, but sadly the code here has never worked together for the good of the game.

  • Bay35Pablo

    “use it”? How? Please elucidate. As in back up your off the cuff blather with some proper argument.
    If any club put a team in themselves they’d be … The Sydney Stars. Only their own fans (such as they are) would support them, and other clubs would not for the same reason – not their club. Look at the Vikings in Canberra, who have that issue with other Canberra clubs.
    At least the Sydney NRC sides do have some links to certain clubs, that can then try to channel that support into the relevant team.
    Also keep in mind getting to games isn’t always “easy”.
    I love the NRC, and follow it avidly, but each year I have only gotten to 1 game because of things being on the weekend with kids, etc. This year I didn’t even get to a Rays game, and made do with the Rams v Eagles which was a cracker.
    Go sit in the stands with Greg “Grouchy” Growden if you’re going to moan.

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@Nick_Wasiliev

Die-hard Brumbies/Country Eagles fan now based in Sydney. Author, anthropologist, musician and second-rower trying to kick start a writing career in an increasingly bonkers world...

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