The NSW Country Eagles will host next week’s Buildcorp National Rugby Championship Final in Tamworth, after a dominant 50-24 semi-final win over Melbourne Rising in Newcastle.
Despite finding themselves down 16-0 inside the first ten minutes, the Eagles found themselves on top midway through the first half and were never headed from there to seal the win, and confirm that the Country Music capital will host its first NRC Final next Saturday night.
The Rising scored with their first opportunity with the ball, with Wallaby no.900 ‘Super’ Sefanaia Naivalu finding himself in space down the left edge and throwing a wonderful dummy to run it in under the posts from beyond halfway.
Hooker Pat Leafa then scored from a wonderful lineout trick shot play with Colby Fainga’a flicking the pass back to him, Leafa over in the corner. Jack Debreczeni’s kicking boot was on, and Melbourne led 16-0 after just seven minutes.
Country got on the board soon after though, when in-form backrower Sam Figg snapped up an intercept and ran 50 metres himself. Andrew Deegan’s conversion made it 16-8 to the Rising, but the Eagles were finally in the game.
For the next fifteen or so minutes, it became a territory battle, as both teams looked to try and find any field advantage they could. It was like the opening softening period was just moved to the middle of the first half.
Two tries to Country and Waratahs flyer Reece Robinson in two minutes confirmed the momentum swing that had been brewing, and suddenly, with a ball to play with, the Eagles led 22-16 with less than ten minutes to halftime.
Figg then bagged a second himself, after Jake Gordon swept on a loose Rising lineout throw, and the Eagles went into counter-attack mode. A top shelf offload from Paddy Ryan saw Figg set sail for the corner.
Deegan missed the conversion, but NSW Country were very satisfied heading to the sheds 28-16 up at the break.
The Eagles picked up where they left off after halftime, and were on attack almost straight away. They kept the pressure up on the Rising line, and it was lock Rohan O’Reegan who finally got the reward. Another Deegan conversion made it a 36-16 lead for the home side.
Jake Gordon was next to score, making a half break and then carrying two Rising defenders over the line through sheer determination to make it 42-16.
Melbourne needed to score next desperately, and finally managed to get some attacking ball in the Country 22m. From the lineout, flanker Jordy Reid was able to crash over in the corner, and Debreczeni’s conversion narrowed the scoreline back to 42-24 with 15 minutes to play.
A late second try for Gordon and conversion from out wide from Tayler Adams sealed the 50-24 win.
But it was all NSW Country for the closing stages, controlling the play and the position on the ground it was played, with the big win giving them all the momentum for next weekend’s final in Tamworth.
NSW COUNTRY EAGLES 50
Tries: S. Figg 2, R. Robinson 2, J. Gordon 2, R. O’Reegan
Cons: A. Deegan 3/6, T. Adams 1/1
MELBOURNE RISING 24
Tries: S. Naivalu, P. Leafa, J. Reid
Cons: J. Debreczeni 3/3