It may be a battle between two sides without a win in 2016 but the clash between the Western Sydney Rams and Queensland Country will be one of the most anticipated of the year.
Kicking off at 3pm and headlining the massive double-header at Concord Oval, the clash will also complete the return of All Blacks legend Brad Thorn to the playing arena, albeit from the reserves.
He’s not the only one with international experience, Wallaby lock Will Skelton will again line-up for the Rams as he looks to get himself back on Michael Cheika’s radar.
In a loss for the home side, Fijian Olympic gold medallist Vatemo Ravouvou will miss the clash, providing Roland-Keni Kotobolavu with an opportunity on the wing, with Albert Nikoro moving to fullback.
Queensland have also been forced into a reshuffle with a number of players unavailable, with the inclusion of Brad Thorn exciting for head coach Toutai Kefu.
“It’s great to welcome a player of Brad Thorn’s calibre into the team. He has been excellent in his role as assistant coach and the players are all really looking forward to having the chance to play alongside him,” Kefu said.
However, the side has lost exciting youngster Izaia Perese who leads the competition for clean line breaks and defenders beaten, while last week’s skipper Conor Mitchell will also miss the clash after he signed with the Australian Men’s Sevens side.
“While Brad comes into the side, we unfortunately lose Conor, but his selection in the Australian Sevens program is testament to his performances both in 2015 and 2016 for Country,” Kefu said.
“The purpose of the NRC is to further develop players and provide them with opportunities at the highest levels and Conor is deserving of a chance to test himself at the next level having been one of our most consistent performers.”
Kefu has also reinstated the halves pairing of James Tuttle and Mack Mason for a must-win clash if they’re to have any hope of playing a part in this year’s finals series.
Western Sydney Rams
Starting 1-15: Matt Gibbon, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, David Lolohea, Will Skelton, Vaitoa Senio Toleafoa, Rhys Allen, Tupou Sopoaga, Tyrone Viiga, Waldo Wessels, Paul Asquith (c), Luke Smart, Mau David Minute, Apolosi Latunipulu, Roland-Keni Kotobolavu, Albert Nikoro.
Reserves: Nathan Charles, Andrew Tuala, Jack Payne, Tom Alexander, Jodan Tuapou, Harrison Goddard, Mitchell Walton, Denny Godinet.
Starting 1-15: Sef Fa’agase Alex Casey, Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Phil Potgieter, Ted Postal, Maclean Jones, Angus Scott-Young, James Tuttle (c), Mack Mason, Liam McNamara, Duncan Paia’aua, Tyrone Lefau, Tom Pincus, Tom Banks.
Reserves: Feleti Kaitu’u, Richie Asiata, Kirwan Sanday, Brad Thorn, Jack Cornelsen, Scott Malolua, Mitch Third, Matthew Gordon.
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