NSW Country Eagles overcame three yellow cards and a fast-finishing Brisbane City side, to open their campaign with an impressive 22-12 win over the two-time NRC Champions.
Country looked to be well on top when they jumped out to a 22-6 lead shortly after halftime, but a lack of composure and a sudden fit of ill-discipline threatened to derail their dominance over the last half an hour of the game.
“I’d like to think that’s a Country win – I don’t know too much about Country rugby, but I definitely know that to have that ethos of being a team who likes to grind out wins is going to be good, especially against the defending champions who will have another good year as well,” NSW Country skipper Dave Horwitz told Fox Sports on fulltime.
In a bruising opening befitting of a Super Rugby derby, neither team could make the breakthrough they needed in the first quarter of the game. Both sides showed that the scrum will be a huge part of their arsenal in 2016, and the opening exchanges had no shortage of big hits.
Impressive young Country lock Ned Hanigan broke the scoring drought in the 26th minute, when the Eagles finally had some success with the lineout drive.
Randwick flyhalf Andrew Deegan converted to give NSW Country a very handy 8-0 first half lead.
Brisbane City hit back just prior to the break, with young flyhalf Jake Strachan throwing a big dummy and stepping off the right foot to barge over, but NSW Country hit back virtually straight away when winger Alex Newsome snapped up a loose pass from a Brisbane scrum and ran sixty metres to score.
Deegan’s second conversion gave the Eagles a very well-earned 16-6 halftime lead.
Country got off to the best possible start to the second half, with Waratahs fullback Andrew Kellaway making a break from a turnover, before linking with Hanigan who was brought down just a metre short.
Prop Sam Needs crashed over on the pick-and-drive to push the lead out to 22-6.
Brisbane City found the line after NSW Country lost Needs to a yellow card, with flanker Michael Beauchamp going over to the left of the posts.
Country were put on a final warning only moments later, as referee Angus Gardner began to lose patience with repeat infringements.
The Eagles would lose both no.8 Sam Ward and Hanigan to yellow cards before the day was out.
Brisbane City cleared their bench, but even with NSW Country a player short of most of the last twenty minutes, they couldn’t find a way through the Eagles defence, ending City’s 13-game unbeaten NRC run that tracked back to midway through the 2014 season.
NSW Country Eagles 22
Tries: N.Hanigan, A.Newsome, S.Needs
Cons: A.Deegan 2/3.
Brisbane City 12
Tries: J.Strachan, M.Beauchamp
Cons: N.Russell 0/2.