NRC season preview: Perth Spirit

NRC
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

There'll be no going under the radar in 2017 for NRC defending champs, Perth Spirit.

A team with plenty of high-profile players, including four capped Wallabies outside their Test-aligned group, is mixed with up and coming WA stars.

The addition of former schoolboy star Nick Jooste adds another intriguing element to a backline that could contain Billy Meakes, Jono Lance, Curtis Rona and Chance Peni.

Emotion will play a major part in the Spirit's year too, with the future of the Force still yet to be finally decided, and this season will be an opportunity to prove the talent pathway in WA and the role the provincial competition plays in that.

They'll be missing one of their leaders on that front, with hooker and last year's skipper Heath Tessmann unlikely to play with hip surgery on the horizon.

They were the underdogs last season, even when the finals began, but their ability to deal with expectation will be tested.


SQUAD

PROPS

Jermaine Ainsley, Nedlands/Force,

Shambeckler Vui, Wanneroo/Force

Tetera Faulkner, Wanneroo/Force

Beau King, Kalamunda

Pekahou Cowan, Wests Scarborough/Force

HOOKERS

Mees Erasmus, Palmyra/Future Force Foundation

Baxter King, Wests Scarborough

Anaru Rangi, Nedlands/Force

Sama Malolo, Wests Scarborough/Future Force Foundation

Logan Ede, Nedlands

LOCKS

Richard Arnold, Nedlands/Force

Matt Philip, Force

Onehunga Havili, Palmyra/Force

Ben Grant, Cottesloe/ Future Force Foundation

BACKROW

Kane Koteka, Wests Scarborough/Force

Angus Cottrell, Associates/Force

Isi Naisarani, Force

Ben McCalman, Force

Michael Hardwick, Associates

SCRUMHALVES

Michael Ruru, Nedlands/Force

Ian Prior, Force

Michael McDonald, Palmyra/Future Force Foundation

FLYHALVES

Jono Lance, Associates/Force

Peter Grant, Cottesloe/Force

Nick Jooste, Wests Lions (ACT)/Cottesloe

CENTRES

Billy Meakes, Force

Marcel Brache, Perth Bayswater/Force

Sheldon Tawara, Joondalup

Curtis Rona, Palmyra/Force

OUTSIDE BACKS

Chance Peni, Palmyra/Force

James Verity-Amm, Nedlands/Force

Brendan Owen, Associates/Future Force Foundation

Clay Uyen, UWA/Force

WALLABIES

Dane Haylett-Petty, Wallaby (Cottesloe)

Richard Hardwick, Wallaby (UWA)

Adam Coleman, Wallaby (Cottesloe)

Tatafu Polota-Nau, Wallaby

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON?


Things couldn't have gone much better for the Perth Spirit in 2016, with the WA franchise taking out their first NRC title, beating the Country Eagles.

They won five of their seven matches last year, before making their way through the finals, and proving their quality under pressure.

A strong year helped players like Michael Ruru and Richard Hardwick take the next steps in their rugby career as well, with Hardwick going from NRC final man of the match to Wallabies debutant in June.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER

Isi Naisarani used the NRC as a springboard to Super Rugby in 2017 and things have only improved for him since then.

The Queenslander was plucked from Brisbane City last season to join the Force and he more than repaid the faith, becoming the first player to win the Nathan Sharpe

Naisarani tallied a team-high 126 runs, 662 run metres, 22 tackle busts and 108 tackles his 15 Super Rugby matches, and you'd think there would be more where that came from when the NRC picks up.

The Spirit could have one of the most intimidating backrow departments in this competition, with Wallabies Ben McCalman and Richard Hardwick both in the mix along with Naisarani, while forgotten man Angus Cottrell also comes into contention.

It's the flying Fijian, though, who packs the most punch, with the ability to strike in attack and defence.

THE BOLTER

Nick Jooste was a highly-sought after schoolboy prodigy, with an epic boot, but the playmaker opted to head to Canberra to start his Super Rugby career.

Injuries and form have stopped him from being able to make a real impact at the next level, and the 21-year-old was released by the Brumbies at the end of this season.

Expect him to return to Perth with a point to prove, desperate to have another opportunity to try and make the most of his talent, starting with a strong NRC.

Though he will be competing with Force starter Jono Lance and Bill Meakes in the inside backs, the youngster will be one to keep an eye on if he can string consistent games together.

PREDICTION

The Spirit look like they'll be up among the top echelon of the NRC again, with a Super Rugby-heavy lineup.

Perth sides with a point to prove have fared reasonably well this year too, and the emotion that has galvanised the Force should carry through to the provincial side.

Expect them to make the finals again this year, and contend for another crack at the trophy.

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