The NRC has a new competition leader, after the Canberra Vikings threw down an imposing gauntlet to the rest of the competition, with a 71-14 win over the Rays.
The 11-tries-to-two win puts Canberra in the best possible position ahead of their bye next week, and they can sew up a top two finish against the Greater Sydney Rams in the final round.
“We’ve been building towards this,” a very satisfied Vikings captain Tom Cusack said after the bonus point win.
“We had a somewhat slow start to this competition, but we’re getting into a position where we need to be and we’re flying pretty well with a good performance there, so we’ll rest a few bodies with the bye next weekend, and get firing for the last few games.”
The Rays made the initial attacking raids, but it was the Vikings who scored first, with Andrew Muirhead crossing after following a quality run from James Dargaville, who was prominent in the opening exchanges.
Canberra’s scrum had already won some early penalties, but it was their lineout set piece to strike the next blows.
New Wallabies squad member and Canberra hooker Folau Fainga’a piloted a precision Vikings lineout drive in the 17th minute, and after Rays fullback Josh Turner was sin binned for a deliberate knock down in the 20th minute, a lineout trick play in the opposite corner saw Fainga’a in for his double.
Young centre Len Ikitau was in next for Canberra, finishing off skipper Cusack’s line break, and Hawera’s third conversion made it 26-0 after 25 minutes of play.
The Rays had a chance to score next, but prop Dave Lolohea was ruled to have come up short, and the Vikings quickly reasserted themselves, with Dargaville crossing for a well-deserved try to give Canberra an imposing 31-0 lead at halftime.
The first red card of the NRC season came out just after half-time, with Rays flanker Garry Bautz sent off for a nasty-looking tip tackle on Hawera.
The Vikings looked like they’d take advantage of the overlap immediately, only for Rays flyer Kepu Lokotui to swoop on a Vikings cut-out pass and run 90 metres to score the Rays’ first points of the match.
Canberra hit back minutes later through Cusack, and their scrum took over from there, winning penalties and a try to scrumhalf Joe Powell after completely demolishing the Rays’ pack on their line.
Hawera’s fifth conversion of the day made it 45-7 in under an hour, but the Vikings were a long way from done.
Rampaging young Vikings no.8 Rob Valetini then crashed over from the back of the dominant scrum in the 63rd minute to notch the half-century, before the Rays hit back themselves through right winger Rob Buaserau.
Scrumhalf Ryan Lonergan put his hand on a loose ball to score Canberra’s ninth try, and got his double late in the game finishing off a great team try that started with a break back in their own half.
From the restart, and with the fulltime bell sounding, Dargaville got his second after Tom Banks broke away from inside the Canberra 22, with winger Lausii Taliauli capping a successful return from a 10-month layoff with a conversion from in front to seal the 57-point win.
Canberra Vikings 71
Tries: Fainga’a 2, Lonergan 2, Dargaville 2, Muirhead, Ikitau, Cusack, Powell, Valetini
Cons: W. Hawera 5, Lonergan 2, L. Taliauli
Sydney Rays 14
Tries: Lokotui, Buaserau
Cons: H. Nucifora 2
Yellow Cards: J. Turner (20’),
Red Cards: Bautz (44’)