The NSW Country Eagles are the new Buildcorp NRC competition leaders, extending their unbeaten start to the season with a 36-16 bonus point win over the Sydney Rays at Pittwater Park.
Late tries to Australian Sevens star backrower Tom Cusack, and scrumhalf Jake Gordon were the cherries on top of an already impressive display for the Eagles, prevailing in a high quality blockbuster that lived up to all expectations.
A dominant scrum and an outstanding second half defensive effort from Darren Coleman’s men – despite being down to 14 for almost twenty minutes - was the difference between the two sides.
The Rays welcomed Wallabies flanker Scott Fardy into their starting line-up for his NRC debut before the game, and he was noticeable through his very solid 60-minute stint, albeit without his regular headgear.
Sydney lock Connor Vest posted the first points of the game in just the third minute, crashing over under the posts after some quick recycle work from the Rays to follow up a nice break from Sevens star Cam Clark.
Country locked the scores up at 8-8 20 minutes in through Tolu Latu from close quarters, finally converting an opportunity after several failed attempts in the opening stages.
The defence from both sides was exceptional for most of the first half, with both sides mounting waves of attack, only to be thwarted by opposition turnover.
Country and Waratahs winger Reece Robinson capped a strong first half with a try in the corner right on the stoke of halftime, which with Andrew Deegan’s missed conversion gave the Eagles a 14-8 lead at the break.
The second half started at an even higher skill level again from both sides, and it took a quality line break from Country flanker Sam Figg to open things up, finding Robinson to finish the break off in the corner. Deegan’s sideline conversion made it 22-8 with less than half an hour to play.
A yellow card for Latu allowed the Rays to mount an attack on the Country line in 56th minute, and after another infringement, Referee Rohan Hoffmann was left with no alternative but to award the first penalty try of the season. Matt Lucas’ conversion brought the margin back to just six points heading into the last 20 minutes.
Cusack crossed in the 78th minute, and Gordon’s try after the bell nabbed a surprise bonus point, confirming the 36-16 final scoreline.
SYDNEY RAYS 16
Tries: C. Vest, Penalty try
Cons: M. Lucas 2/2
NSW COUNTRY EAGLES 36
Tries: R. Robinson 2, T. Latu, T. Cusack, J. Gordon
Cons: A. Deegan 2/3, T. Adams 1/2