Melbourne Rising did enough on Sunday to qualify for the Buildcorp NRC Finals Series in fourth spot, and now that they’re in the semis, they plan on going all the way. And scrumhalf Mick Snowden says the ghosts of 2014 will be driving the side as they push for a maiden NRC title.
“Yeah, the boys still talk about getting pantsed by the Perth Spirit team that year” Snowden told rugby.com.au this week. After going undefeated through the nine rounds in 2014, the Rising were punted from the finals at the first stage, going down 45-29 to Perth in a stunning home semi-final result.
“I was actually playing for the Eagles that year, and we were all as shocked as anyone to see them knocked out.
“But that’s what finals football is, and especially in a competition like this; it’s quite an even competition and if you don’t bring your best on the day, you’re going to get done.”
Conditions at Frankston Park on Sunday, for the Rising’s game with the Sydney Rays were something else. Snowden admitted that he’d never played in wind so strong, not even when playing in New Zealand. It made life for the scrumhalf rather difficult.
“You really couldn’t pass much further than a few metres,” Snowden said.
“The best evidence of it was in one of the scrums – I fed it, it’s got back to our second row, and the breeze has actually blown the ball back on to the Rays’ side of the scrum, and they picked up a tighthead based solely on the breeze!
“It was unbelievable to watch. I went to the back of the scrum to go looking for the ball, and the next thing I knew, Matty Lucas is running off with it!”
Despite the wind being at their backs in the second half, it really wasn’t much advantage for Melbourne at all, and Snowden said the wind contributed as much to them losing their direction in the second half as anything the players were doing or not doing themselves.
“We did lose a bit of direction there for a while, but that was often a result of any pass that had to travel more than five metres was likely to shift a metre or two in the air.
“It made passing very, very hard, and you could see it for the Rays, too, early in the second half they were struggling to throw it wide without it going three or four metres behind the man. That’s probably the best indication of much it did interrupt play,” he said.
Snowden was hopeful of logging some decent time at the start of the NRC, but injuries to teammates has meant he’s is enjoying more game time in than he was expecting.
“Yeah, certainly. At the start of the NRC, I was hoping for a bit of time after I didn’t play as much Super Rugby as I’d have liked, but that’s part of footy and part of being behind two very good halfbacks.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time, and I’ve been quietly happy with my game. Like anyone, there’s always improvements, but I’ve been pretty content. But I’ve definitely played a lot more than I was expecting to, and it’s just due to ‘Stirzy’ [Rising skipper Nic Stirzaker] picking up a few injuries along the way.
“He should be right to go this weekend, so we’ll just wait and see how much game time is in store.”
In a nice little twist, Snowden will indeed face a large number of his former NSW Country teammates in the first semi-final, after he played in the inaugural Buildcorp NRC in Eagles’ colours.
“I was with them in the first year, but last year I blew my foot to pieces during the Shute Shield and missed the whole NRC, and about ten months of rugby in total.
“There’s actually a great majority of them still there [from 2014], and the coaches are all still there, too. It’s a very similar team. It was good fun playing against them last time [in Round 3, up in Tamworth; Snowden’s home town].
“They’re obviously well-coached by ‘DC’ [Darren Coleman], and all the Easts and Randwick boys are still running around. It’s always fun playing against blokes you’ve played with.”
The loss to the Rays was indicative of the Rising’s campaign; brilliant in parts, scratchy in others. They’ve done enough to qualify for the semis, but you’d think there would be some frustration at their up-and-down form.
“Oh yeah, there’s certainly frustration there,” Snowden conceded. “We’re very happy to be in the finals, but we’re going in with a 3 and 4 record, which is far from ideal.”
“There were things we did quite well [against the Rays on Sunday], but there were times we knocked off and the Rays put points on us in pretty quick succession.
“Had it not been a hurricane that we were playing in, we might’ve had a shot of pulling some points back, but at the end of the day, all teams in the comp now need to win two games to win the title.”
And it’s that fact – that all four teams are now on level pegging this weekend – that has the Rising poised to win through to a maiden NRC Final. Their own experience in 2014 is proof that anything can happen come the knockout stage, and that all previous form counts for little now.
“We’re quietly confident, to be honest with you,” Snowden says. “Obviously the Eagles have set the pace, and they’ve got a ton of very talented players, but by the same token, after a very slow start in Tamworth we managed to haul them back and fell just short.”
“I think there’s plenty of belief in the players that we can go up to Newcastle and get the job done.
“The Eagles are very dangerous counter-attacking team. They’ve got great threats on the ball between Sam Figg and Rowan Perry, and then out wide, just look at them: Reece Robinson, Andrew Kellaway, Dave Horwitz, Kyle Godwin, and Jake Gordon is having a great year.
“There’s plenty of toe in that team, and they can sting you in a heartbeat.
“If there’s any 50-50 ball on the ground, we’ll have to look to make it hard to win and cut that threat out of them, and then hopefully just hold them up at set piece and everything else around the field.”