Rays and Eagles do battle for NRC top spot

by Marty Cambridge

The Sydney Rays and NSW Country Eagles will kick-off round four of the Buildcorp NRC in a mouth-watering top-of the-table clash at Pittwater Park on Saturday afternoon.

Both sides are undefeated so far in the competition and will be desperate to cement themselves in the number one spot.

There’s been a number of forced changes to the sides, young Waratahs flanker Jack Dempsey returns from a two-game suspension to make his second appearance of the year for the Rays after copping two yellows in the side’s season opener.

His return pushes try-scorer from last week, James Brown back to the bench, who has been a go to so far for head coach Simon Cron.

“Our bench is there to make a major contribution when they come on and that’s what Demo has the chance to do,” Cron said.

James Brown was in great form against Queensland Country last weekend. Photo: Sportography“If we concentrate on executing our basic skills and doing our individual roles in attack and defence then we can play some great Rugby.

“Being process driven is important for those guys who run on and those guys that finish a game off.”

There’s bound to plenty of points in this one, both sides have scored 15 tries so far in the competition but the Rays will be without the NRC’s leading try-scorer Richard Woolf because of injury.

The Eagles have lost damaging prop Tom Robertson to the Wallabies, which provides Sam Needs another opportunity in the first XV.

The two sides play contrasting styles, with the Eagles enjoying a hard-running backline off the back of a dominant forward pack while the Rays like to exploit their speed and mobility across the paddock.

The Eagles are showing the rest of the teams they're a force to be reckoned with in the 2016 edition of the Buildcorp NRC. Photo: AJF PhotographyThe Eagles also with some firepower in defence, flanker Rowan Perry leading the NRC tackle stats so far this year, the side confident they can stay unbeaten through four rounds.

"There is a really good feeling around the playing group at the moment, if we can play to our structures and control the pace of the game, we will be a good chance to continue our undefeated run,” injured fullback Andrew Kellaway told rugby.com.au this week.

Sydney Rays

Starting 1-15: Rory O’Connor/Ezra Luxton, Damien Fitzpatrick, Lawrance Hunting, Connor Vest, Nick Palmer, Jack Dempsey, Will Miller, Michael Wells, Matt Lucas (c), Angus Sinclair, Johnathan Malo/Josh Turner, Irae Simone, Con Foley, Josh Turner/Seb Wileman, Cameron Clark.

Reserves: James Hilterbrand, Rory O’Connor/Ezra Luxton, Mitch Lewis, Adrian Hall/Michael Smith, James Brown, Dewet Roos, Sam Lane, Seb Wileman/Josh Turner/Dennis Pili-Gaitau.

NSW Country Eagles

Starting 1-15: Paddy Ryan (c), Tolu Latu, Sam Needs, Ned Hanigan, Tim Buchanan, Sam Figg, Rowan Perry, Sam Ward, Jake Gordon, Andrew Deegan, Alex Newsome, Kyle Godwin/Tom Hill, David Horwitz, Reece Robinson, Angus Roberts.

Reserves: Jed Gillespie, Folau Fa’ainga, Cameron Betham, Ryan McCauley, Mark Baldwin, Sam Croke, Tayler Adams, Tom Hill/Kyle Godwin, Tom Cusack (one to be omitted)

Stream online via foxsports.com.au.