Melbourne Rising Assistant Coach Craig McGrath says his side are ready for their ‘third Grand Final in as many weeks’ on Friday, as they prepare to travel to Canberra to face the UC Vikings in a Buildcorp National Rugby Championship (NRC) Semi Final.
Referencing that the Melbourne Rising had to win both of their most recent fixtures to secure safe passage into the final four, McGrath also stressed that the focus for the visiting side is purely on the areas which they themselves can control.
“The Vikings are certainly a good side, but we’ve had three weeks to mentally prepare for knockout footy and get up for it over the last two matches,” McGrath said. "The way we’ve played in the last fortnight has probably reflected our sudden death situation in that we’ve been a little nervous at times, but we’ve also been getting the results and that’s all that matters.
“Sunday’s win against the Stars was a typical Quarter Final type scenario; we ground out the result knowing that whether we won by one point or twenty, it was just about getting the job done. Now, it’s about us on Friday night, not them; we can’t control them, but we can control how we present and what we are capable of.”
The Melbourne Rising did venture to Viking Park three Friday’s ago, and while the Vikings were victorious on that occasion McGrath believes his team took plenty of learnings from the contest.
“What I took out of our trip up to Canberra is that we’re more than capable of heading up there and getting the result,” McGrath said. “We’ll back what we’ve been doing, and throw in a few little tweaks here and there and keep a couple of things up our sleeve.
“Mostly, however, we just want to do what we’ve been doing but do it even better, because when we do execute well we create opportunities and then it’s just a case of making the most of those chances. We totally trust the boys that they will go out there, play to their best ability and get stuck in for the full 80 minutes.
“It’s a pretty clear and simple message; we go up there, and whatever it takes, we get the job done.”
Its McGrath’s second season as Assistant Coach of the Melbourne Rising, with the former Maori All Blacks scrumhalf and Super Rugby winner (Blues) happily setting nationality aside and enjoying playing his part in the development of the next wave of Australian talent in the NRC.
“The ITM Cup competition is one of the big reasons why New Zealand Rugby has been so strong for such a sustained period of time,” he explains. “It’s a massive step up from Club Rugby to Super Rugby, so to have that third tier is really important; it brings players up to speed from a strength and conditioning perspective, from a preparation point of view and also with their skillset.
“You look at New Zealand Rugby, and it’s a continual factory of players coming out. They get concerned about certain players retiring, for example after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but look at what the All Blacks are doing now four years later; they may have even gotten better.
“I think it is important for Australian Rugby that the same starts happening here, thanks to the NRC. The NRC has gotten better this year, and I think it will continue to improve next year, and that’s good for Australian Rugby.”
For the Rising themselves, McGrath has enjoyed the opportunity to develop even more players from the local Direct Connect Dewar Shield competition.
“We’ve already used five more players from the Dewar Shield than we did in 2014, with an average of half of our matchday 23 being from Club land,” he said. “That’s one of the key objectives of the Melbourne Rising; to see if these guys are capable of stepping up, and helping them with that step.
“Stacey Ili, Justin Marsters, Sione Tuipulotu and Lloyd Johansson, for example, have all played a lot of football in our backline and have been crucial in our qualification for the Semi Finals. More than half of our squad are 24 years of age or younger, and they’ve hopefully gained a lot from this experience.
“Now, we can focus on hopefully extending the program for another week with a positive result on Friday night.”