NRC: Rising bounce back in NRC classic

by Rugby Australia

The Melbourne Rising have responded to Saturday’s defeat against Brisbane City in the best possible way, showing their full attacking repertoire as they defeated North Harbour Rays 45-40 at Manly Oval on Thursday evening.

In what really was a game of two halves, a late try and then a crucial turnover from Colby Fainga’a saw the Melbourne Rising secure the win despite a huge second half effort from the Rays, who trailed 40-16 at the break.

With the television cameras of FOX Sports broadcasting live throughout Australasia, the Melbourne Rising backline enjoyed the top billing in the opening period as they provided four first half tries, with back rower Jordy Reid the only forward to score.

North Harbour Rays flanker Boyd Killingworth scored a first half double, including the first of the match, but arguably the top try of the opening stanza was scored by Melbourne Uni winger Stacey Ili, whose outstretched hand in the 24th minute planted his first Buildcorp National Rugby Championship (NRC) try.

Lloyd Johansson had scored his second NRC try, and the Melbourne Rising’s first of the evening, to even up the scores under the posts in the 14th minute, before a former Manly Marlin in Jordy Reid gave the visitors the lead on his old home ground when the TMO ruled he touched it down just before the 20th minute mark.

Ili extended the advantage, with Jack Debreczeni converting to make it three from three. While Killingworth did reduce the deficit, the competition’s all-time leading point scorer in Melbourne Rising flyhalf Debreczeni scored one of his own before his halves partner Ben Meehan scored the final try before oranges.

It was a different North Harbour Rays outfit in the second half, Hamish Angus seizing an intercept opportunity before former Melbourne Rebels scrumhalf Josh Holmes found his way to the line to bring the margin back to one converted try.

The rain teemed in, and with Johansson in the bin Rays’ centre Tom Hill evened up the scores in the 62nd minute as Angus knocked over his fifth straight conversion.

Replacement back Filipe Vilitati, on for Jonah Placid, prevented the hosts from taking the lead with less than fifteen minutes remaining as he executed a great low tackle on Tyson Davis with an open try line beckoning, before the Melbourne Rising secured a crucial momentum shift as the game neared a close.

Ignoring the generation gap, 36 year old replacement back rower Pom Simona’s bone crunching tackle forced a spilt ball and a turnover in possession, before 18 year old Australian U20s centre Sione Tuipulotu’s line break ended with Melbourne Rising Co-Captain Fainga’a scoring his first NRC try.

The conversion missed, but despite the Rays’ bearing down on the try line in the closing minutes, a textbook turnover from Fainga’a allowed the Melbourne Rising to knock the ball into touch and return to both the winners’ list and the competition’s top four.

Melbourne Rising Head Coach Zane Hilton was pleased with his side’s ability to hold on for the win, against a side he referred to as “a genuine quality opponent.

“We learnt plenty of lessons from the fact that we had to grind out the win tonight,” Hilton said.

“When you are dominating a contest, you have to continue to respect the opposition for the full 80 minutes; we’ll get great growth out of that performance. I was really impressed by the Rays and how they came home; it’s a tough turnaround from Perth on the red eye flight, after their win on Saturday.

“Absolute credit to them and the way in which they finished stronger than us, but also credit to our blokes for having the ability to guts out a very important win.

“I thought our forward pack was extremely good, particularly in defence, and Jack Debreczeni’s mature head and game management at the back end of the game was important. I was also pleased with Filipe Vilitati who had to come on early when Jonah hurt his knee, and with Stacey Ili’s finishing ability. There’s a lot of positives to take from that and a lot of things we can improve upon as well.”

The Melbourne Rising have a bye in Round Four of the NRC, before hosting the Greater Sydney Rams at LaTrobe City Stadium in Morwell on Saturday September 19th in Round Five.

Melbourne Rising 45 (Tries: Jack Debreczeni, Colby Fainga’a, Stacey Ili, Ben Meehan Lloyd Johansson, Jordy Reid

Conversions: Jack Debreczeni 5) defeated North Harbour Rays 40 (Tries: Hamish Angus,Tom Hill, Josh Holmes, Boyd Killingworth 2

Conversions: Hamish Angus)