The Canberra Vikings are into the NRC Final after an action packed 50-34 win over the Melbourne Rising. The game was in the balance until late in the second half before the Vikings scored two late tries to seal the win over a determined Rising side.
The Vikings got off to a flyer as they went to their potent weapon of the rolling maul after a series of penalties deep in the Rising 22 with Jarrad Butler coming up with the five-pointer after only three minutes.
The Rising had to make a lot of tackles early on but were able to gain a turnover right on their own line to relieve pressure but took it’s toll with Duncan Chubb forced to leave the field.
They went further behind on ten minutes after Christian Lealiifano found a gap in the defensive line before finding a flying Ita Vaea who in turn found Rodney Iona for the second Vikings try to make it 13-0.
The vistors were finally able to get into some rhythm and went close to scoring but were denied by an obstruction call but they wouldn’t have to wait too much longer as their forwards started to get on a roll to make some space and winger Stacey Ili opened their account.
That try gave the Rising confidence with Jordy Reid starting to get in the action making metres, before the backs got quick ball and fullback Jonah Placid found himself in space and stepped his way over to level the scores.
And the scoring continued for the Rising as they scored a third consecutive try to Cruze Ah-Nau under the sticks on the back of a number of penalties going against the Vikings with the score now at 21-13.
The scoreboard was needing a break as the home side hit back after securing the restart and Ben Alexander crashed over and Lealiifano’s conversion again levelled the scores.
The scoreboard attendant was one of the busiest at the ground and was called upon again as the Rising took advantage of a loose Vikings lineout and Sione Tuipulotu found his way to the line to restore their lead.
Lealiifano again found a gap in the defensive line and found Nigel Ah Wong who looked certain to scored but was brought down in a brilliant covering tackle from the Rising to secure a relieving penalty.
But on the stroke of half time, the Vikings hit back as Iona swooped on a grubber kick from Lealiifano to give the Vikings a three point lead at the break at 29-26.
The start of the second half saw the Rising again on the defensive but were up to the task to repel the Vikings raid.
The defensive physicality lifted from both sides with Rory Arnold in particular putting on some big shots to leave a few Rising players rattled.
The Vikings were first on the board in the second half as Frankie Fainifo danced his way through the line after a bulldozing run from Vaea in the build up. Lealiifano’s conversion from the sideline gave the Vikings some breathing space at 37-26.
The end to end play continued as the Rising nearly pulled off a brilliant length of the field effort from Tuipulotu after collecting a Debreczeni chip kick in his own 22. But just minutes later Colby Fainga’a got the nod from the TMO as he went close to the dead ball line to reduce the margin again.
As the game entered the final 20 minutes, the Vikings were awarded a penalty deep in the Rising 22 and their dominant scrum was too much for the Rising with Ita Vaea awarded the try to make the margin eight points.
The Vikings went close to putting the game out of reach of the Rising but a knock on under pressure from Sione Taula with the line begging let the Rising off the hook.
With the game nearly over, the Vikings scrum again dominated to put the Rising under pressure they couldn’t contain and were awarded a penalty try to seal the game for the Vikings as they cracked the 50 point mark.
The Game Changer
The game was closer than the final score suggested but the last 20 minutes was where the Vikings came out on top with their scrum dominance proving the difference.
The G&GR MOTM
Christian Lealiifano – Found a number of gaps in the Rebels defensive line to set up the Vikings backline with his experience proving vital in the win.
UC Vikings: 50
R. Iona (2) 9', 40'
J. Butler 3'
B. Alexander 28'
F. Fainifo 49'
I. Vaea 63'
Penalty try 78'
C. Leali'ifano (5/7) 4', 28', 40', 50', 79'
Referee: Will Houston
S. Ili 16'
J. Placid 22'
C. Ah-Nau 25'
S. Tuipulotu 33'
C. Fainga'a 59'
J. Debreczeni (3/5) 16', 26', 59'
Attendance: estimated upwards of 1500
University of Canberra Vikings: 1. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Robbie Abel, 3. Ben Alexander, 4. Rory Arnold, 5. Blake Enever, 6. Dean Oakman-Hunt, 7. Jarrad Butler (c), 8. Ita Vaea; 9. Joe Powell, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 11. Lausii Taliauli, 12. Rodney Iona, 13. Nigel Ah Wong, 14. James Dargaville, 15. Isaac Thompson. Reserves: 16. Albert Anae, 17. Sione Taula, 18. Tyrel Lomax, 19. Michael Oakman-Hunt, 20. Rowan Perry, 21. Brent Hamlin, 22. Mitch Third, 23. Francis Fainifo. Coach: Brad Harris.
Melbourne Rising: 1. Cruze Ah-Nau, 2. Pat Leafa, 3. Duncan Chubb, 4. Sam Jeffries, 5. Lopeti Timani, 6. Steve Cummins, 7. Jordy Reid, 8. Colby Fainga’a (c); 9. Ben Meehan, 10. Jack Debreczeni, 11. Filipe Vilitati , 12. Lloyd Johansson, 13. Sione Tuipulotu, 14. Stacey Ili, 15. Jonah Placid. Reserves: 16. Mitch Andrews, 17. Mike Tyler, 18. Tom Moloney, 19. Murray Douglas, 20. Pom Simona, 21. Maradona Farao, 22. Taiso Silafai-Leaana, 23. Justin Marsters. Coach: Zane Hilton.
Photos by Ben Morris