The Melbourne Rising have kept their 2015 Buildcorp National Rugby Championship (NRC) playoff hopes alive with a courageous come from behind victory against NSW Country Eagles in Round Eight.
Playing on an immaculate surface at Geelong’s outstanding Simonds Stadium facility, the Rising had to be patient and can thank their defensive resolve for keeping them in the contest before their forward pack took advantage of opportunities late in the game to get them the four points.
It wasn’t the ideal start for the hosts, with referee Matt O’Brien punishing them for numerous offences in the opening minutes and the Eagles taking advantage as hooker Tom Sexton got over under the posts.
An incisive break from Cruze Ah-Nau allowed Jonah Placid to score the Rising’s first try, with the loosehead prop and Pat Leafa combining in a classy interplay before the fullback finished in the corner, however Lloyd Johansson’s kick from the touchline smashed against the posts.
The Eagles thought that they’d hit back through front rower Dane Maraki, only for the TMO to rule it out, and the Rising showed their front row prowess moments later when they marched an Eagles scrum up the field from their own try line.
However yellow cards to Lopeti Timani and Sam Jeffries in the final ten minutes of the half made possession hard to come by, and at the break it was one try apiece but the Eagles leading 8-5.
The Eagles fired the first shot of the second half when Jarome Mackenzie got over for a try in the left hand corner, and Jonno Lance’s conversion snuck over by a coat of paint to take the margin to eleven points.
That’s where it stayed until after the hour mark, as the Rising’s forwards upped the ante with insane physicality only for discipline and handling errors to restrict the home team’s opportunities.
Rising Head Coach Zane Hilton had urged his side to be patient pre-game, and experienced hands Johansson, Colby Fainga’a and Lopeti Timani helped lead the way as the Rising eventually got their second through scrumhalf Ben Meehan with nineteen minutes remaining.
The momentum shift gained further ground when Dashville Kuata was yellow carded for the Eagles, and when Jordy Reid scored off the back of a maul Johansson had the chance to give the Melbourne Rising the lead for the first time with a difficult conversion attempt out wide.
He was unable to add the extras, however the Rising couldn’t be held off any longer and eventually it was up to Captain Fainga’a to score the fourth, and ultimately final, try right under the posts in the 72nd minute.
Meehan stepped up to convert, and while there were some nervous moments in the closing stages as the Eagles upped the intensity, the Rising’s defence again rose and Geelong proved a happy hunting ground, 23-16 the final score.
Head Coach Hilton praised his troops for their commitment to one another in a fixture which was played at finals-like intensity.
“I’m proud of our boys for finding a way to win that one against a gutsy opposition who made us earn every point and made us play for the full 80 minutes despite them being on a short turnaround from a physical game in Perth last week and being on the NRC’s longest road trip,” Hilton said.
“Our defence was the best it has been all season, and our forwards were outstanding in our finding the try line when it mattered. I also have to pay credit to Ben Meehan, who was excellent tonight, and Lloyd Johansson who came on early for Jack Debreczeni and played nearly 80 minutes at flyhalf; it was a superb effort.
“Now the focus turns to next week’s must win match, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Melbourne Rising move up to fourth place, and next Sunday take on the third placed Sydney Stars in the final regular season fixture of 2015 knowing that a win will see them secure a playoff place.
Melbourne Rising 23
Tries: Jonah Placid, Ben Meehan, Colby Fainga’a (2)
Conversions: Ben Meehan
NSW Country Eagles 16
Tries: Tom Sexton, Jarome Mackenzie
Conversions: Jono Lance (2)
Source: Melbourne Rising