Thrillers played out in Brisbane and Canberra on Saturday afternoon, marking the start of the NRC for another year.
What are we talking about after the opening day of the 2017 NRC?
1. Drua can compete
In their first game of NRC, newcomers Fijian Drua showed they won’t be making up the numbers in 2017. They were caught on the back foot in the opening half, as a star-studded City romped to a 33-12 lead at the break, but their fighting spirit brought them back into the contest. A string of late tries struck fear into the hearts of City fans, but ultimately they ran out of time in the nine-point loss. Discipline was a major concern for the Pacific Islanders, conceding two yellow cards, but if they can keep that in line, their try-scoring potency showed they’ll push any team in the competiton.
2. Queensland talent bites back
The Queensland NRC teams are stacked with stars, but watching Country’s encounter against the Vikings on Saturday made it difficult to avoid the ‘what if..’ questions that emerged. Tom Banks was playing for Queensland Country just a year ago, before being snapped up by the Brumbies, while backrower Ben Hyne inflicted the most damage on his home state. The backrower made 80 run metres and busted seven tackles in a rampaging performance against Country. It’s impossible for clubs to keep all their rising talent, but victory over the northerners may just have been a little bit sweeter for those hosts.
3. Not Ready for a nibble
A strange sideshow played out at Ballymore, involving City captain Andrew Ready and his opposite number Samu Suguturaga. A fired-up Ready came out of once scrum accusing Suguturagaof biting, with marks seemingly visible on his head and blood gushing out of a wound. With no TMOs, there was little referee Damon Murphy could do, without seeing the incident, so he instructed Drua captain John Stewart to address it with his players. Ready was more balanced speaking about the incident after the match, happy to leave it in officials’ hands, but remained adamant his opponent had sunk his teeth in.
4. Point scoring no problem
The NRC has reverted to rugby’s traditional scoring system, but that didn’t seem to bother sides on a high-scoring first day. Both games featured 13 tries overall and Brisbane City had notched seven of those before the half-time whistle had even been blown. Just one penalty kick was converted, by the Vikings’ Wharenui Hawera, with all four sides in action looking for the line when they won a penalty opportunity. The NRC’s expansiveness has been a major attraction of the competition and if day one was anything to go by, that isn’t going to change in 2017.
5. Mixed fortunes for Wallabies contenders
It was a mixed bag for the Wallabies players released to the NRC on the opening day, and those looking to work their way back from the wilderness. Samu Kerevi showed positive signs, particularly in defence, against Fiji, while Quade Cooper had a solid, of not outstanding game at flyhalf, that included suffering a bone-crunching hit. Lock Kane Douglas had his best game in recent memory in the second row. In Canberra, Joe Powell was consistent at nine, but overlooked second rower Sam Carter didn’t quite add the impact he’d need to catch Michael Cheika’s eye.