The NSW Country Eagles have taken a step closer to the Buildcorp NRC minor premiership and enjoying home ground advantage throughout the Finals Series, after a hard-fought 44-40 win over the Western Sydney Rams.
Their sixth win of the campaign, the Eagles also secured the Horan-Little Shield for 2016, and were crowned the inaugural winners of the Benn Robinson Bell, minted this week to recognise the best performed NSW team during the NRC season.
The Eagles will now wait to see who finishes fourth on the competition table, and they will take on whichever team that is in the first Semi-Final next Saturday at 3:00pm AEDT in Newcastle.
After the initial softening-up period, the game burst into life in the 8th minute, when Rams’ skipper Paul Asquith won the race to chipped kick though, as just as he was being bundled into touch by Eagles winger Reece Robinson, threw a desperate flick pass inside that found rampaging no.8 Tyrone Viiga in support, the Rams jumping out to the early 6-0 lead.
Robinson then equalised in the 16th minute in much the same fashion, the ball bouncing up beautifully from a Kyle Godwin chip ahead. Andrew Deegan couldn’t convert and we were all locked up at 6-6.
The Rams then went to their set piece for their next two tries, the first one when sneaky scrumhalf Waldo Wessels dived on the ball over the line before Viiga had a chance to detach from the dominant scrum, and then Viiga barged over for his second, in the 26th minute from an exceptional 25-metre lineout drive to push the Rams out to 20-6.
Country hit back themselves though, first through hooker Folau Fa’ainga, and no.8 Sam Ward picked up some loose crumbs after a very impressive kick-chase and counter-ruck. With Deegan’s conversion, the Eagles took a 22-20 lead into halftime.
After the break, the Eagles extended their lead out to 28-20 when scrumhalf Jake Gordon took a quick tapped and dived over, but the Rams hit back only minute later, with hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa scoring his sixth try for the season and once again off the lineout drive.
Country were starting to assert themselves at scrum time and were dominating the territory and possession stats in the second half, but a relieving penalty to the Rams saw them go 70 metres down field and score through winger Luke Smart and take 34-28 lead.
The see-sawing nature of the game continued, with the Eagles regaining the lead when Gordon ran a nice arc from the scrum base to score untouched in the 69th minute, his second for the day, which with Tayler Adams’ conversion pushed them ahead 36-34.
That was short-lived, however, when Rams centre David Minute barged over from close range three minutes later. Asquith’s unhappy day from the kicking tee continued, but the Rams were in the lead again 40-36 with just seven minutes to play.
Eagles skipper Paddy Ryan picked the perfect time to score his first NRC try of 2016, charging over with just three minutes on the clock; Adams’ clever conversion with the win pushed NSW Country out to a 44-40 lead.
Country used their experience and game smarts to close out the game, and will take the momentum from a tough warm-up into next week’s semi-final.
WESTERN SYDNEY RAMS 40
Tries: T. Viiga 2, W. Wessels, B. Paenga-Amosa, L. Smart, D. Minute
Cons: P. Asquith 2/6
NSW COUNTRY EAGLES 44
Tries: J. Gordon 2, R. Robinson, F. Fa’ainga, S. Ward, P. Ryan
Cons: A. Deegan 2/4, T. Adams 2/2