The second Buildcorp National Rugby Championship Semi Final shapes as the proverbial ‘David and Goliath’ battle.
The unbeaten Brisbane City will host the Sydney Stars, who won their first three straight games but just one more in the next six matches. And with some heavy defeats along the way. They found some very solid defensive form last week, however, to keep the Melbourne Rising side pegged down and securing the bonus point they need to leapfrog NSW Country in the playoffs.
As we opened with in our Semi Final 1 preview, we’ve spoken to both captains and asked the same questions, to get an idea of how they see things currently.
Here are the responses from Brisbane City’s Liam Gill and Sydney’s David Hickey, ahead of Saturday’s second Semi Final in Brisbane:
How is your form line coming into the Semis?
Gill: “Yeah, it’s been awesome (eight wins from eight starts, six with bonus points). I said to the boys after the game on Saturday, that regardless of what level of sport you play at, to go through a season undefeated is a huge credit to the way we’ve played and a massive achievement.
“On a form line, I couldn’t be happier; there’s absolutely nothing for me to complain about. We’ve had a fantastic season, but we understand now that it’s the knockout stages, and we now that we have to front up again now, otherwise we’ve wasted the last eight games that we’ve put maximum effort in for.
“We’ve got our eyes wide open, and we certainly know what is possible in semi-finals (Melbourne and NSW Country - 1st and 2nd on the table - were both beaten in the 2014 semis. Melbourne were similarly unbeaten going into the finals).
“But we take a lot of confidence out of what we’ve just achieved. So yeah, as much as it will be nerve-wracking - and finals footy always is - we were good enough to go all the way last year from third spot, so we’ve got a complete understanding of what it takes. If we can front up and play the way we know we can, we should hopefully keep this winning streak rolling.”
Hickey: “Yeah, you could probably say we’re not quite where we’d like to be. We haven’t exactly won our last two games, although we got enough points earlier in the season. We’ve had a few injuries hurt us, but we’re getting guys back now and hopefully we can jell a bit this week, and go up to ‘Brissie’ and put in a good performance.
“We know Brisbane are a red hot team, so we’ll have to be at our very, very best to get close to the win.
“But we’re excited, we’re in a Semi-Final. This time last year we’d won one game, and it’s pretty much the same group, so we’ve come a long way in twelve months. We’re just trying to ride it a bit this week and we’ll see how we go.”
What were the lessons from your Round 9 result?
Gill (City beat Greater Sydney 71-24, at Ballymore): “Yeah, it was a really nice way to finish, and that’s been the story to a lot of our games. We’ve been good enough to hold leads, and we’ve been good enough to get in front of teams, but our last 10 or 15 minutes is where we’ve really put teams to the sword.
“And that’s a huge credit to the way ‘Stilesy’s’ (City Coach, Nick Stiles) got us playing, but just our mindset too. And I think that’s really going to help us coming into Saturday. To be out to play out the full 80, and to be able to put, I mean it’s 30 points sometimes, in the last 10 or 15 minutes is great, and like I keep saying, I think that really sums up where this team is at, and the potential it has within it.”
Hickey (Sydney lost 18-10 to Melbourne, in Frankston): “We talked about our defence after the Brisbane game, and it was just an attitude thing we needed to fix. The boys dug deep in that second half when Melbourne were on our line for a long time. (It was the first scoreless half of football in the two years of the Buildcorp NRC.)
“That’ll be the thing we take out of the Melbourne game, our defensive intent and our desire to defend for each other.”
What were the takeaways from your last clash against them?
Gill (City beat the Stars 58-0 in Sydney, in Round 7): “We definitely did ease up in the second half last time (City led 45-0 at halftime), but I think that scoreline shows that defence will win this Championship. To keep a team in the NRC - which is renowned for scoring points - to nil is an incredible achievement.
“I actually didn’t play that game, and 58-0 is still a pretty respectable scoreline (laughs), but like you said, you could say we did clock off at halftime, but the really positive thing was that we kept them scoreless, and to front up for 80 minutes and stop a team from scoring a try is great.”
Hickey: “They’ve got some classy players from 1 to 15, so if you can limit their opportunities with the ball, and kick smart to them and not play too much footy at your own end, because they are quite good defensively as well.
“If we can limit their opportunities as much as possible, it will probably take points away from them. If you look at Karmichael Hunt and Junior Laloifi, Samu Kerevi in the midfield, Jake McIntyre; there’s some bloody good players there.
“If we keep the ball away from those guys and stop the scoreboard ticking over, and if we can find points while we’ve got the ball, I think that will go a long way.”
How do you get them this week in the Semi?
Gill: “Up front, so set piece is obviously a huge thing. We’ve had a great set piece all year, so if we can continue to roll that, it just gives our backs that bit of dominant space that they can be so dangerous in. We’ll get the ball out to Samu (Kerevi) and Karmichael (Hunt) to do the razzle-dazzle stuff, while we front up and hopefully take care of the forwards.
“That’s the gameplan; that’s how we’ll try and take them on. Whether it goes to plan or not will obviously be a different story.”
Hickey: “I think you’ve got to come out hard and fast - if you give a team like that a start, it can pretty hard to peg them back!
“If we can start well, get a bit of momentum, it’s finals footy, you know, so anything can happen. That’s our attitude going into it; we’ll try and start fast and see what happens after that.”
Who will you play in the Final?
Gill: “I think Canberra are probably the team that will make it through to the Final from the other Semi; I just think they’re too structured and too good.
“Melbourne have come back and had a good end-of-year, so it’ll be a tough game; I’m actually looking forward to watching it. Hopefully they’ll bash the hell out of each other and someone can limp into the Final the following week! (laughs)”
Hickey: “I think Canberra will be pretty hard to beat down there. I didn’t play when they put 70 on us (in Round 5), but the boys said they were pretty clinical.
“They’re a good team and I think they’ll be hard to stop, especially at home.”
SATURDAY - Semi Final 2: Brisbane City v Sydney Stars, at Ballymore Oval in Brisbane; 6:30pm AEST / 7:30pm AEDT.
Tickets: Adults just $15 via www.redsrugby.com.au | Broadcast live on FOX SPORTS 2