The Canberra Vikings are into their second NRC final, after a superb forwards performance saw them home in a thriller at Viking Park in Canberra.
The Vikings' 40-35 win over Perth Spirit sets up a home final nest Saturday night, where they will meet the winner of tomorrow’s second semi-final between Queensland Country and the Fijian Drua.
The Spirit had all the ball in the opening few minutes, and took advantage of an early penalty to send lock Richie Arnold over next to the posts in the fourth minute.
Canberra’s scrum was keeping them in the contest with back-to-back penalties, but their handling was a source of frustration.The Vikings’ forwards were making ground up through the middle, and flanker Rob Valetini continues his excellent NRC campaign, barging over in the 25th minute after prolonged pick-and-drive.
Wharenui Hawera’s conversion levelled the scores at 7-7.
The Spirit hit straight back, however, with Arnold crossing for his second, but the Vikings then responded again, with prop Fa’alelei Sione proving too strong from a metre out to again draw the scores level.
Canberra took the lead for the first time in the match in the 35th minute, with a nice attacking build-up sending Brumbies flyer Andrew Muirhead over in the corner.
Hawera’s third conversion with the sharp, cool easterly at his back made it 21-14.
But as they had throughout the first half, Perth made the most of their territory, with Arnold completing his hat-trick after the halftime siren had sounded.
Peter Grant’s third conversion once again locked up the game, 21-21 at the break.
Perth posted the first points of the second half, with hooker Anaru Rangi diving on a loose ball in the Vikings in-goal in the 47th minute.
The Vikings thought they’d levelled the scores again in the 51st minute, only for Valetini’s long ball for Tom Cusack to be ruled forward.
The Vikings did level the scores at 28-all in the 57th minute, through replacement prop Harry Lloyd and Hawera’s fourth conversion - the fourth time the scoreboard was all clear in the first hour of the game.
Cusack was again denied in the 66th minute, but Vikings fullback scored from the resulting scrum to regain the lead.
The Spirit lost Kane Koteka to a yellow card in the 69th minute, and shortly after, Hawera’s short ball put Dean Oakman-Hunt through into space, before Hawera finished it off to score under the posts to give Canberra their biggest lead of the match, 40-28.
The Spirit weren’t done though, hitting straight back once again through replacement hooked Sama Malolo, with Grant’s fifth conversion bringing the margin back to five points with five minutes to play.
The Viking Park crowd was getting vocal in the closing stages, with some desperate Canberra defence thwarting several late Perth raids.
Two solid Vikings scrums closed the game out for the home side, ensuring they would host their first ever NRC final next Saturday night in Canberra.
Tries: R. Valetini, F. Sione, A. Muirhead, H. Lloyd, T. Banks, W. Hawera
Cons: W. Hawera 5
Tries: R. Arnold 3, A. Rangi, S. Malolo
Cons: P. Grant 5