NRC: Round three Saturday games: Five things we've learned

by Brett McKay

Round 3 of the Buildcorp NRC kicked off under grey skies and while both games took some time to get going, we still finished with 14 tries and 106 points for the day.

1. The Olympic gold rush is already having an effect

Upwards of 300 girls answered the call to play a Sevens carnival before and after the Rams-Spirit game at Concord Oval. The carnival was contested by 28 teams from Under 14s, 16s and 18s, playing 19 matches in total. The numbers are a big reflection of the popularity of the NSW 7s Discovery Days, which are currently taking place across the state to find the next generation of 7s stars.

It’s an early and really encouraging sign for what the Aussie Women’s Olympic Gold Medal has done for the popularity of rugby among women and young girls in particular, and what a way to kick off the Rams’ first home game of 2016.

2. Try-scoring machine!

With the Buildcorp NRC full of tries in every game, you’d probably assume that it’s the outside backs who feature at the top of the competition’s try-scoring list. But not so!

Few had heard of Western Sydney Rams hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa before the NRC kicked off, but he and his wonderful head of hair are well known now, with his try against Perth his fourth in three rounds, placing him at the head of the queue.

He’s shown his versatility, too, with a couple of tries coming from driving mauls, and the rest from some really impressive pick-and-drive work. And long may it continue; who doesn’t love front rowers crossing the stripe!

Sydney Rays’ speedster Richard Woolf scored twice against Queensland Country, his second double of the competition, but we’re giving the lead to Paenga-Amosa on a countback.

3. The Rams will claim a scalp soon

Their record says they’ve lost three straight games, and they find themselves at the bottom of the table, but the reality behind the numbers says the Western Sydney Rams are a much better team than they appear.

The Rams lead the NRC in five of the eight team stats recorded; they’ve carried the ball and made more metres than any other team, beaten more defenders while doing it, and got more offloads away. They also lead the competition in terms of lineout takes, and certainly have an underrated forward pack.

It all points to the Rams winning sooner rather than later, and though they’ll be ruing missed opportunities in the six-point loss at Concord, I think they’re ripe for a scalp in the next few weeks.

Canberra Vikings, Queensland Country, Melbourne Rising, and NSW Country are their remaining games, and it’s very difficult to see them winless for much longer.

The Western Sydney Rams have had opportunities to win in all three of their matches so far. Photo: Getty Images.

4. Rays to lock down a semi spot soon?

They’ve won their first three games, and play the competition heavyweights over the remaining four rounds, but already it feels like the Sydney Rays can secure a spot in the semis with even just two further wins on their run home.

They sit top of the table, obviously, and are having no trouble finding the try line, averaging five tries per game.

But they’re just as impressive defensively, conceding only 2.7 tries per game to boast the best record in the competition.

They’re playing with confidence now, too, and after starting the Buildcorp NRC so well, the Rays really look in the box seat to lock down a maiden finals appearance.

5. Player management round

Plenty of Super Rugby-contracted players were named on benches for Round 3, and the early benching of the players who did start probably confirmed that this weekend was the preconceived point in the season where the players who have had long seasons already were given an early mark.

So Western Force scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens was pulled with half an hour to play for Perth, new recruit Billy Meeks went off around the same time, Waratahs and Wallabies lock Will Skelton came off with 21 minutes to play for Western Sydney in the same game.

Likewise for the Rays, Waratahs scrumhalf Matt Lucas kicked his third conversion in the 59th minute, and that was his day done.

You’d expect it will be more of the same tomorrow, particularly for the heavily Super Rugby-backed Brisbane City, Canberra Vikings, and Melbourne Rising.

Will Skelton got an early mark in the Rams loss to Perth Spirit. Photo: Getty Images.