The NSW Country Eagles have embraced their moniker geographically this season and captain Paddy Ryan says the NRC’s hark back to rugby’s simple pleasures that has made the 2016 iteration that much better.
Ryan missed the second year of the NRC, before coming in to captain the Eagles this season, taking them to their maiden grand final in his hometown of Tamworth.
While the quality of the matches had noticeably improved since the inaugural season when he first played, it was the sight of Brad Thorn taking an audience with a handful of NSW Country players after a game that showed him the true quality of the competition.
“It's been all about getting the four points or smashing each other on the field for 80 minutes and then coming off the field and being able to enjoy each other's company, so if that means going into the sheds and having a powerade or a water or a beer and having a chat, that's been one of the great things,” he said.
“One memory which stands out for me is playing against QLD Country in Toowoomba and after the game, having a XXXX in the sheds with Brad Thorn and there was about nine blokes from our team gathered around the corner...sitting at his feet, dead set listening to what he has to say.
“You don't get that in Super Rugby but it's something rugby does really well and has done well in the past and it's something we are going back to the NRC.”
The Eagles have really taken the country tag with aplomb this season, awarding their best players each week with akubras and travelling across the state to showcase the NRC.
A report on Friday morning of a potential rebel competition involving Queensland and NSW premier grade clubs frustrated Ryan, who was full of praise for the development of the NRC.
“I was disappointed to see that brought up this week,” he said.
“It's a week we should be worrying about the Bledisloe, in particular the women having a crack at 3pm tomorrow arvo and the NRC final.
“I was a bit disappointed they picked this week to do that.
“In terms of the details, I haven't read enough or looked into it enough to know what's going on.
“I was just a bit disappointed that that was done this week and takes away from what should be a great week in rugby.”
Ryan pointed to the breakout season of halfback Jake Gordon when asked about the value of the NRC continuing into the future, though that is already locked in until at least 2020.
“Would we have all thought Jake Gordon was ready to play Super Rugby eight weeks ago, nine weeks ago? Probably not,” he said.
“Would we have thought (lock) Ned Hanigan was? Probably not.
“Where did we think (Queensland Country prop) Taniela Tupou was eight, nine weeks ago?
In that time they're the guys that have been named in NRC team of the year, they're the blokes everyone's talking about as bolters on spring tours and whatever, that says enough in itself for me."
The NSW Country Eagles host the Perth Spirit at 7:40pm AEDT on Saturday, LIVE on FOXSPORTS.