The Canberra Vikings have confirmed their status as 2017 NRC favourites on the back of a scary impressive win over the Sydney Rays in Canberra this afternoon. The 71-14 win also put the Vikings back on top of the ladder having momentarily lost it on the back of Queensland Country’s big win over the Greater Sydney Rams yesterday.
As if they needed it the Vikings were boosted by the return of Wallabies Joe Powell, Henry Speight and Sam Carter while the Rays were forced to make late changes to their side due to injury. While the Rays were able to hold out the Vikings for the first ten minutes of the game but you always felt that the drought would be broken sooner rather than later.
And sooner it was as Andrew Muirhead benefited from some smart James Dargaville work to barge his way over for the first try of the match.
The Vikings set piece was working superbly with the scrum completely dominant against the mostly amateur Rays pack. Newly selected Wallaby squad member Folau Faingaa was a beneficiary, twice-over, within the next eight minutes as he twice crossed from Canberra lineouts. The first was a traditional driving maul while the other was from a nicely worked play at the front of the lineout with Rory Arnold. With only a quarter of the game gone and the Vikings were up 19-0 and doing it easy.
The Vikings scored two more tries in the first half, one to rookie centre Len Ikitau, who supported a wonderful Tom Cusack break, and the second to Dargaville. This try was yet another from the lineout, however another variation of as Cusack to the ball from the Sam Carter take to deliver a well-timed pass to his centre running a fine line.
It left the score at 31-0 to the home team and the break and the Rays looking for a miracle in the second half.
The miracle would not eventuate, in fact the Rays got a red card instead as flanker Gary Bautz was sent by the field for a dangerous tipping tackle on Wharenui Hawera.
The Vikings upped the ante and as Powell looked for the space out wide his wide pass went amiss and Rays speedster Kepu Lokotui took it the length of the field to score his side’s first points of the day.
Canberra stuck to their guns though and relied on the dominance of their set piece, enhanced by the one-man advantage. Captain Cusack was in soon after and when Powell pounced over for his first try of the match, with 20 minutes to go, it was time to clear the benches with the score at 45-7.
Following a powerful Rob Valetini try, the Rays were able to score their second when Irae Simone found space and linked up with Rob Buaserau to cross for their second of the match.
A couple of tries to replacement Ryan Lonergan as well as Dargaville’s second right at fulltime put the icing on the cake for what was a relatively easy day out for the competition front runners.
The Game Changer
Not applicable. This was pretty much one way traffic from the start.
The GAGR MOTM
Wharenui Hawera enjoyed the front foot ball he was receiving from his pack, as were his outside backs, but it was the work of Sam Carter and Rory Arnold that was responsible for much of that positive possession. Sam Carter claims the award for his clinical restart work (and 80 minute effort).
OZ Baabaa Watch
Young Brumby centre Len Ikitau is definitely one to watch and could not have dreamed of a more ideal match to make his run on debut. On the other side of the field James Brown has been a shining light for the Rays and again was impressive despite the big loss.
Score & Scorers
Canberra Vikings 71
Tries: James Dargaville 2, Folau Faingaa 2, Ryan Lonergan 2, Andrew Muirhead, Len Ikitau, Tom Cusack, Joe Powell, Rob Valetini
Cons: Wharenui Hawera 5, Ryan Lonergan 3
Sydney Rays 14
Tries: Kepu Lokotui, Rob Buaserau
Cons: Harry Nucifora 2
YC – Josh Turner (Rays) 19th minute
RC – Gary Bautz (Rays) 43rd minute