The Bond University Queensland Country side that will take on the University of Canberra Vikings at Sunshine Coast Stadium, in Round 9 of the 2015 Buildcorp National Rugby Championship (NRC) this Thursday, 15 October, has been named.
Head coach Jason Gilmore has made a number of changes to the side heading into Thursday night’s match, including the return of Sunshine Coast product Haydn Hirsimaki to the starting front-row.
Hirsimaki, who will start at loose-head prop, first played Rugby at Nambour Christian College before playing club Rugby for the Nambour Toads and the Sunshine Coast Stingrays. He also represented the Queensland Country Heelers while playing on the Sunshine Coast, and was part of the Combined Country squad which played the British & Irish Lions in 2013.
Sef Fa’agase will shift from loose-head to tight-head prop with Hirsimaki’s return, seeing Taniela Tupou move to the reserves. In the second-row, Gold Coast lock Milton Sikuea returns to the starting XV after making his return from injury via the bench in Round 8, with Easts utility Tyrell Barker moving to blindside flanker.
St George born flanker Maclean Jones will earn his first start at openside flanker with former Senia Catholic College student and University of the Sunshine Coast Rugby Club junior, Conor Mitchell, moving to the reserves.
At flyhalf, Brothers pivot Sam Greene will return to the 10 jersey after starting at fullback last week, seeing Dion Taumata move to the reserves. In the centres, Tyrone Lefau will return to the starting line-up in the 12 jersey with Lagi Setu ruled out through injury.
In the back-three, Tom Banks will move from wing to fullback which makes way for the return of University of Queensland winger Tom Pincus in the 14 jersey.
In the reserves, both Richie Arnold (Bond) and Scott Malolua (Souths) have returned from injury to be selected for Country’s final regular season fixture.
Head Coach Jason Gilmore believes the Country team will be hungry to put in a big performance in their last match of the year in front of the Sunshine Coast fans.
“This Thursday night’s match marks our last for the 2015 season and I know the team is hungry to deliver a solid performance for our home fans on the Sunshine Coast,” Gilmore said.
“It’s been a challenging season with the team having to work with new line-ups and combinations week-to-week through injury, but the players have showed resolve and embraced whatever challenges have come before them.
“We’ve put in solid performances against each team we’ve come up against, pushing three of the current top four teams in the opening three-rounds of the competition as well as securing wins over the Greater Sydney Rams and NSW Country.
“The Vikings have been one of the top performers of the 2015 season, but in true Queensland Country fashion, our team will tackle the challenge head-on and look to finish the season on a high.
“The Sunshine Coast region has produced some great Rugby talent over the years and through playing in front of the current junior and senior players, we will look to show the local Rugby community that there is a pathway to reach higher honours through the Queensland Country program.
“Hirsimaki and Mitchell are both products of the Sunshine Coast region and I know both players are excited about playing in front of their family and friends at home.”
The University of Canberra Vikings have made several changes to the side for Thursday night’s round nine matchup. There will be a number of fresh faces in the 23-man playing squad who have been impressive for the ACT Griffins representative side in 2015.
Queensland youngster Mitch Third will start the match at flyhalf, replacing Christian Lealiifano. Lealiifano picked up a number of knocks in the UC Vikings thrilling 31-37 loss to Brisbane City in front of a record NRC crowd at Viking Park on Saturday and will miss Thursday’s match.
Ita Vaea will also miss the match after picking up some knocks in the loss to Brisbane City. He will work with the UC Vikings Strength and Conditioning Team this week to ensure he too is fit for the UC Vikings first semi-final appearance in the NRC, which will be played at Viking Park on either Friday 23 October at 7:30pm.
With Lealiifano and Vaea missing Thursday’s match on the Sunshine Coast, two players who have been in superb form for the ACT Griffins will get their first chance in the UC Vikings jersey in 2015. Queanbeyan’s Dan Penca has been named to make his NRC debut alongside Tuggeranong’s Jake Rakic from the reserves list.
Penca, a member of the 2014 and 2015 UC Vikings playing squads, has been in formidable form for the Griffins. The Queanbeyan Whites skipper scored four tries in two matches for the ACT representative side this season.
Penca comes onto the bench with Dean Oakman-Hunt named at blindside flanker. Jordan Smiler will start from the bench. Rowan Perry will start at openside flanker, with Vikings skipper Jarrad Butler moving to No.8 to replace Vaea.
Rakic, a former Australian Junior Sevens representative is another who has impressed for the ACT representative side this season. The 22-year old made two appearances for UC Vikings in 2014 and can cover a number of backline positions. He will be hoping to continue the great form he has shown in 2015 for both the ACT Griffins and Tuggeranong Vikings in the John I Dent Cup.
In other changes, Canberra Royals scrumhalf Brent Hamlin will make his first starting appearance in the NRC. Hamlin has been named on the bench for all seven of the UC Vikings matches this season but is a straight swap for Joe Powell who will feature from the reserves list on Thursday night. Ben Alexander also returns to the bench with Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin moving into the starting side.
There will be a number of great individual matchups on display on Thursday night between some of Australia’s best up-and-coming talents.
Rory Arnold has been named at lock for the UC Vikings and could line up against twin brother Richie who has made three appearances for Queensland Country this season.
Blake Enever has partnered Arnold in the second row for the Vikings all season and has been named to take on his former NRC side for the first time.
Another great matchup will be that of UC Vikings prop Allan Alaalatoa and the man dubbed ‘The Tongan Thor’, Taniela Tupou. Both young props have been in sensational form throughout the NRC and their battle in the scrum will be a highlight of the match.
Last season the UC Vikings downed Queensland Country 26-21 at Viking Park.
Queensland Country’s match against Canberra Vikings will form the third-and-final-leg of the 2015 Queensland Country Tour, which has seen the side play its NRC home games on the Darling Downs, in Rockhampton and on the Sunshine Coast. The tour is proudly supported by the Queensland Government.
Thursday night’s match between Queensland Country and the UC Vikings will be played at Stockland Park, Sunshine Coast. Kick-off is 6.30pm local / 7:30pm AEDT LIVE on FOX SPORTS Channel 502.
Queensland Country team to play UC Vikings:
1. Haydn Hirsimaki – Sunnybank/Sunshine Coast
2. Alex Mafi – Reds/Bond University/Mt Isa
3. Sef Fa’agase – Reds/University of Queensland/Beaudesert
4. Milton Sikuea – Bond University/Gold Coast
5. Phil Potgieter – University of Queensland/Toowoomba
6. Tyrell Barker – Easts
7. Maclean Jones – University of Queensland/St George
8. James Turner – Souths/Cairns
9. James Tuttle – Reds/GPS
10. Sam Greene – Reds/Brothers
11. Pierce Fitzgerald – Brothers/Townsville
12. Tyrone Lefau – Wests
13. Campbell Magnay – Reds/GPS
14. Tom Pincus – University of Queensland/Gold Coast
15. Tom Banks – Reds/University of Queensland
16. Campbell Wakely – University of Queensland/Gold Coast
17. Reuben Leilua – University of Queensland/Bowen
18. Taniela Tupou – Reds/Brothers
19. Richie Arnold – Bond University/Gold Coast
20. Conor Mitchell – University of Queensland/Sunshine Coast
21. Scott Malolua – Souths
22. Dion Taumata – Bond University/Gold Coast
23. Mack Mason – Mitchell
UC Vikings team to play Queensland Country:
1. Allan Alaalatoa
2. Robbie Abel
3. Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin
4. Rory Arnold
5. Blake Enever
6. Dean Oakman-Hunt
7. Rowan Perry
8. Jarrad Butler (c)
9. Brent Hamlin
10. Mitch Third
11. Lausii Taliauli
12. Rodney Iona
13. Nigel Ah Wong
14. James Dargaville
15. Isaac Thompson
16. Albert Anae
17. Sione Taula
18. Ben Alexander
19. Jordan Smiler
20. Dan Penca
21. Joe Powell
22. Jake Rakic
23. Francis Fainifo