The 2016 edition of the Buildcorp NRC launched in Sydney, with all eight teams present along with representatives from the Australian Rugby Union and competition partners Buildcorp.
Here’s what they said.
Bill Pulver (ARU CEO)
“This competition is hugely important; it gives our younger players the chance to show national coaches and state-level coaches what they’ve got. Roughly half the playing stocks of the competition comes from Super Rugby squads, and the other half is developing players, and it’s a really wonderful opportunity for them to shine.
“The Law Variations, I think, have been fabulous. It’s a very fast format of the game; it rewards attacking rugby. We want to see lots of tries and we want to see good, open running rugby and that’s what we’re getting. 9.2 tries per game last year and only two penalty goals in the whole competition. The ball-in-play stats have been phenomenal.
“And it really tests the players, too. When they move up through the ranks from Premier Rugby to the NRC, the pace of play is dramatically different. But Premier Rugby to Super Rugby is light years away and we’ve got to teach these kids that there’s a whole different level of preparation and commitment to get there. That’s why we have this pyramid at the elite level of the game, and not many players are capable of making that jump.
“So this competition has a really important role to play.”
Tony Sukkar (Buildcorp Group Managing Director)
“I’m down to see 18 games this season, and the flights and accommodation are all booked, so I’m really excited for another National Rugby Championship season.
“From our viewpoint, it continues to allow us to have our brand associated with a sport we love, but it’s also about growing young men – and we want to see this translated into the women’s game, too. We’re working with the ARU on seeing women’s XVs rugby played at NRC level, so that’s the next objective we’d love to see.”
All eight Buildcorp NRC teams were represented at the launch, and all eight representatives tackled the prickly question of which team starts the 2016 campaign as favourites.
Sam Carter (Canberra Vikings)
“It’s got to be Brisbane City, doesn’t it? Back to back Champions, and they’ve got most of their squad back, so I’d think they’d have to be the odds-on favourite this year.”
Sam Talakai (Brisbane City)
“I actually think we all start pretty even this season. Other teams will have a bit more depth this year, and that should bring the standard up. It’ll be pretty even across the park, in my opinion.
“There’s a bit of outside talk around us doing a ‘three-peat’, but we’re just trying to get everyone together and playing well as quick as possible, and hopefully we can start well this weekend.”
Matt Lucas (Sydney Rays)
“I think it’s going to be hard to go past Brisbane City. On the back of two successful NRC seasons, and both Queensland teams have put together good squads again.
“Someone like Melbourne off a building Super Rugby year, they’ll be strong as well, but honestly, I think everyone’s in with a chance. New South Wales is now down one less side, so the talent is a bit more concentrated and I know we’ve certainly benefited from that, so it should be a pretty open tournament.”
James Tuttle (Queensland Country)
“I think you’d probably have to say Brisbane City after back-to-back titles, but I think one team that might do well is the NSW Country Eagles.
“With the Sydney Stars dropping out, and a lot of their players joining the Eagles who were pretty strong last year anyway; I think they’ll be the NSW side to watch. There’s some good young players in there, and some handy Waratahs players as well.”
Paddy Ryan (NSW Country Eagles)
“Look, I think you have to favour the one-team towns; I think Melbourne and Canberra will be quite strong.
“But it’s so hard to say; you don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of injuries, you don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of squads. You’re only as good as your weakest links, so how strong are your club players coming through, what’s the strength of the club competition in your town?
“So there’s a lot of variables, but you tend to lean toward the one-team towns, and then probably take Perth out of the equation because they’ve got to travel so much.”
Heath Tessmann (Perth Spirit)
“It’s a bit of a tough one to pick this year. Obviously Brisbane City come in having been so successful over the first two season, but then as much as I’m going to sit on the fence a bit, you find positives for most teams.
“Queensland Country haven’t done as well over the last two years, but you look at the coaching staff they’ve brought in, and Brad Thorn playing is going to be a huge plus for them. Brad Thorn playing is a huge plus for me, too, because he’ll be the oldest bloke running around in the NRC and not me, which I’m obviously pretty happy with!”
Dom Shipperley (Melbourne Rising)
“I’d like to think we will; I’ll have to say the Rising. I think coming off a slightly disappointing end to the Super Rugby season, we’ve probably retained a lot more players than people realise; we’re only missing a couple in the Wallabies squad currently and we’ve got a couple back too.
“So we’re not short of talent, but I’m also really impressed with some of the young guys coming through. We’ve got a lot better depth this year over last year, and some big guns up front.”