The University of Canberra Vikings will welcome back playmaker Christian Lealiifano and rampaging forward Ita Vaea for Friday night’s Buildcorp National Rugby Championship (NRC) semi-final showdown with Melbourne Rising at Viking Park.
The star duo missed the UC Vikings 42-8 win over Queensland Country last Thursday after picking up a few bruises in the round eight loss to eventual minor premiers Brisbane City.
Lealiifano will start at flyhalf, replacing last week’s man of the match Mitch Third. Third retains a spot on the reserves list. Vaea’s return pushes skipper Jarrad Butler back to flanker.
Also on the bench this week will be Tyrel Lomax, who comes in for the injured Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin. Leulua’iali’i-Makin picked up an ankle injury after scoring his second try of the season against Queensland Country last week. Ben Alexander will move from the bench into the starting side to replace the Queanbeyan Whites prop.
Lomax is one of four UC Vikings players (along with Dean Oakman-Hunt, Rowan Perry and Rodney Iona) that earlier this week were selected in the Australian Barbarians side to tour New Zealand in November. The youngest member of the UC Vikings squad has played two NRC matches this season and made a number of impressive performances for the Australian U20 side earlier this year.
There will be a brand new face on the bench for the UC Vikings for the match against the Rising. Michael Oakman-Hunt will make his NRC debut, coming in for Jordan Smiler. Smiler will not play this week due to an illness in his family. Michael can play at either lock or flanker, and was a standout for Tuggeranong Vikings in 2015 before injuring his knee in the grand final loss to Canberra Royals.
Michael’s twin brother Dean will retain his spot in the starting side for the semi-final at blindside flanker. Dean has had an outstanding rookie NRC season which has included two starts for the UC Vikings and one try.
The only other change to the side for Friday’s match is Joe Powell’s return to the starting side. Powell started on the bench against Queensland Country, behind Brent Hamlin. Canberra Royals scrumhalf Hamlin was impressive in his first NRC start, scoring one try and having a hand in others.
The UC Vikings and Melbourne Rising met in round seven at Viking Park, also a Friday night match. On that occasion the Vikings ran away 42-16 winners.
The semi-final on Friday will kickoff at 7:30pm, gates open 5:30pm at Viking Park, Wanniassa.
UC Vikings season members and kids under 15 get in free, and tickets can be purchased via Eventopia.
UC Vikings v Melbourne Rising – NRC Semi-Final
1. Allan Alaalatoa
2. Robbie Abel
3. Ben Alexander
4. Rory Arnold
5. Blake Enever
6. Dean Oakman-Hunt
7. Jarrad Butler (c)
8. Ita Vaea
9. Joe Powell
10. Christian Lealiifano
11. Lausii Taliauli
12. Rodney Iona
13. Nigel Ah Wong
14. James Dargaville
15. Isaac Thompson
16. Albert Anae
17. Sione Taula
18. Tyrel Lomax
19. Michael Oakman-Hunt
20. Rowan Perry
21. Brent Hamlin
22. Mitch Third