NRC: Round four Sunday games: Five things we learned

by Brett McKay

While it rained persistently and quite heavily in Canberra during the Vikings’ 22-16 Horan-Little Shield win over Western Sydney, it only rained tries in the west as Perth Spirit thumped Queensland Country 66-36.

1. More history for Perrett

It’s been a big 2016 for Amy Perrett. On the back of becoming the first female assistant referee at Super Rugby and National Rugby Championship level, and controlling the Bronze Medal game in the Women’s Sevens at the Rio Olympics, Perrett created another first in Canberra by being the first female referee in the NRC.

And she controlled the game exceptionally well, showing a nice feel for a game played in at times ridiculously wet conditions, but also with an astute eye for the technicalities, pinging the University of Canberra Vikings several times for incorrectly transferring the ball back in the maul.

On today’s effort, it’s fair to say this won’t be a one-off event in this year’s tournament.

2. NRC brings out the old boys

The pouring rain meant the Viking Park hill was only for the hardy souls, but the weather didn’t scare the big names away from taking in a quality NRC game between the Vikings and Western Sydney Rams. 

Brumbies, former Wallabies, and 2015 UC Vikings prop Ben Alexander was observed keenly sampling the always-excellent Viking Park steak sandwiches, Canberra Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin was there after last night’s semi-final win over Penrith, and former Parramatta Eels great Peter Sterling was also in the crowd, supporting his brother-in-law, Rams coach John Muggleton.

Canberra Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin was one of a few high profile spectators at Viking Park. Photo: Getty ImagesAnd former Wallabies great, Tim Horan, was also on hand, but not to present the Shield bearing his name for the second week in a row, but rather to watch son Alex, who played flyhalf and scored a try for the Vikings’ development side, the ACT Griffins, in their curtain-raiser against a Rams development side.

3. Rams record shuns true ability

I’ve said this before of John Muggleton’s Western Sydney team, but four losses from four games really doesn’t provide that accurate a reflection of their 2016 form at all. 

Three losing bonus points from their last three games - the last two in a row by less than a converted try – shows just how close they’ve been to getting the result that they really have deserved.

They’ll have a real opportunity to break the drought next week, when they host the also winless Queensland Country side at Concord Oval in what will be just their second home game of the season. Following that will be tough games against Melbourne Rising and ladder leaders NSW Country, and you couldn’t rule out a couple of big scalps to finish their 2016 campaign.

4. Hold the phone Mitch, you have some competition

I said back in Round 2 that Brisbane City flyer Mitch Felsman’s Try of the 2016 NRC contender would take some beating, and Wallabies and Western Force winger Luke Morahan – wearing the Perth Spirit no.15 jersey in this game – has mounted a worthy case.

Picking up a Queensland Country kick through on his own 22m line, Morahan stepped through the initial wave of Country defenders and once into space, chipped ahead and put the hammer down.

He comfortably won the race to the ball, scoring an absolute classic that kicked off the Spirit’s try-spree over in the west. Watch it again and again.

5. McCalman times his run well

In front Wallabies teammates Adam Coleman and Quade Cooper, among others, No.8 Ben McCalman mounted a solid case to replace injured no.8 David Pocock for the final Rugby Championship matches in South Africa and London.

McCalman got through 45 minutes unscathed, and said post-match that his recovering shoulder gave him no trouble in the comeback match.

Will Ben McCalman find himself in a Wallaby jersey for the final two Rugby Championship matches? Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyThe shoulder got plenty of testing, too, as Perth Spirit tackled from pretty much all the first twenty minutes, and showed some nice linking skill in attack as well, having a hand in a couple of his side’s first half tries.