McInnes Wilson Lawyers Brisbane City kicked off their Buildcorp National Rugby Championship campaign with a bonus-point victory over 2014 Grand Final opponents, Perth Spirit, 29-16 tonight.
Newly signed St.George Queensland Reds flyhalf Jake McIntyre steered the defending champions around the park well, largely thanks to a strong front-foot platform provided by the forward pack in front of 2,698 fans at Ballymore Stadium.
X-factor from 2014 Grand Final hero Junior Laloifi proved the difference in a tightly contested match, with the Sunnybank flyer playing a hand in two thrilling tries.
Brisbane City’s 12 club Rugby players demonstrated their ability to perform at this next level on the representative pathway by contributing well to the first match.
Brisbane City head coach Nick Stiles said: “I’m happy with the effort from the boys. It’s hard to know what to expect from the first game, so I’m very happy to come away with the win. Perth sent a strong side over here and we knew their back row would try to control the game – but I thought we weathered that well.
“It was really good composure from our guys to hold Perth off during the middle of the game when they looked like they were going to get the better of us. We’ll learn from this and get better.
“We welcomed another 14 debutants to the Brisbane City jersey tonight and everyone will be better for the run. There’s a good mix of Super Rugby and club players in this side and they’re already showing they’ve got a great bond as teammates.”
The local side made the most of its opportunities in an entertaining first half, with Karmichael Hunt and Laloifi both opening their 2015 accounts for City.
Early pressure on the Perth tryline resulted in a yellow card to Western Force prop Chris Heiburg in the 11th minute, incurring the wrath of the referee for off-side play.
Brisbane City embarked on several attacking raids to capitalise on their numbers advantage, but were held out by determined defence.
Brisbane fullback Laloifi was nearly the recipient of a try in the same corner he scored in to secure victory in 2014’s NRC Grand Final, but was called back for a forward pass in the build-up.
With seconds remaining on the Heiburg yellow card, Laloifi took the match by the scruff of the neck by scything through the midfield at pace.
With supporters on either side, Laloifi thrilled the crowd by switching with Hunt, sending the Brisbane City debutant in for the first try of the NRC untouched.
Moments later Hunt featured again, cutting down Perth winger Sevuloni Mocenacagi in a textbook cover tackle to save a try in riposte.
Liam Gill and Laloifi combined spectacularly for Brisbane’s second try, with the City captain turning the ball over inside his own 22m before linking several times on an impressive 70m try, finished by Laloifi in the 29th minute.
The Spirit found their feet in the final 10 minutes of the half by spreading the ball wide, stretching the defence before exposing the midfield with strong support play and offloading.
Spirit captain Heath Tessman was strong through contact, breaking in to the midfield with ease before being cut down by debutant City winger Alex Gibbon.
Perth would not be denied again when they formed a driving maul in the 35th minute, rolling over from close range for flanker Kane Koteka to score, bringing the score to 13-8 at the halftime break.
Reds centre Samu Kerevi opened the second half with a trademark burst through contact, capitalising on a strong scrummaging effort to charge through two would-be tacklers, again taking the match beyond a one-score game.
The visiting side methodically worked their way into Brisbane’s red zone, attacking for multiple phases on the goal-line before creeping in through Force flanker Angus Cottrell.
Reds winger Chris Kuridrani was a standout defender in the wider channels, shutting down Perth’s ability to sustain their wide attacks.
McIntyre showed great composure in working Brisbane over the line with 15 minutes remaining, eventually scoring himself after multiple phases.
Uncompromising defence, highlighted by a try-saving tackle from reserve scrumhalf Tim Smith, allowed the home side to close out the match.
Brisbane City head to Melbourne next week to take on the Rising on Saturday 29 August.
Perth Spirit skipper Heath Tessmann said the team’s performance was one to build on moving through the tournament.
“We were caught a little bit off-guard in that first half and were holding back a bit,” he said. “In the second half we let the shackles off a bit and looked to play a bit more and really open it up.
“We were very happy with [our set piece and rolling maul]. We knew that any team coached by Stilesy [Nick Stiles] would target us at the set piece, and I was really happy with how our young guys stepped up. Jermaine [Ainsley], our tighthead, has to play in the [Pindan Premier Grade] grand final on Sunday, so it’ll be a tough week for him.
“We were good in those areas though and it gives us something to build on.”
McInnes Wilson Lawyers Brisbane City 29 (Karmichael Hunt, Junior Laloifi, Samu Kerevi, Jake McIntyre tries; McIntyre 3 conversions) defeated Perth Spirit 16 (Kane Koteka, Angus Cottrell tries; Ian Prior 2 conversions) at Ballymore Stadium, Thursday 20 August 2015.