NRC: Round Five Sunday games: 5 things we learned

by Brett McKay

With just two rounds of the Buildcorp NRC to go, teams in contention have found themselves grouped even tighter, as losses start affecting table position as much as momentum on the run home. 

1. Another Horan-Little Shield change of hands

After Brisbane City held a mortgage on the challenge trophy last season and never looked like loosening their grip, it’s now changed hands twice in the last four weeks.

Melbourne Rising were initial holders of the Shield on its inception for the 2015 season, by virtue of finishing the home and away season in 2014 on top of the ladder, but lost their first defence to Brisbane City.

And on today’s form, there’s no reason why the Rising can’t hold the Shield for another few weeks yet. Their first defence will come next Sunday against the Western Sydney Rams, and the way they were able to construct tries today against the Vikings suggests they’ll take some beating.

2. Canberra’s 2016 roller coaster continues

Win by 38, 32-point loss, 32-point win, win by six, loss by 16.

That’s how the Uni of Canberra Vikings’ season reads to date, as they continue with this feast-or-famine existence after five rounds of the Buildcorp NRC.

And more worrying might be that their first three tries against Melbourne today came via a lineout drive, the go-to attacking method for the Brumbies this year as well when nothing else is working in attack.

They’ll take positives out of the way they were able to get back in the game, but in reality the Vikings were well-beaten and remain in urgent search of consistency if they’re to feature in the semi-finals.

3. Melbourne Rising up the ladder

It was an important game for Melbourne Rising coming into Round 5, where a loss to the Vikings could have meant they lost some touch with the top four. 

And had you offered coach Zane Hilton a bonus point win before his team ran out onto Viking Park, it’s fair to say he couldn’t have taken quick enough. That bonus point could yet prove very handy on the run home

The 60-44, nine tries to six win propels the Rising up into third place on the table, leap-frogging Canberra in the process, and a win over the Western Sydney Rams next Sunday at home could just about cement their place in the semi-finals.

Their Round 7 clash with the Sydney Rays could yet decide a home semi-final, too, further underlying the importance of today’s win in Canberra.

4. Rays repel by any means

They earned the ire of referee Will Houston at Ballymore, losing hooker Damien Fitzpatrick to a yellow card after too many ruck infringements against Brisbane City, but the Rays’ commitment to defence showed that they’re getting serious about their run to the semis.

“Our aim was just to back our defence, and I think we did that really well in the second half,” skipper Matt Lucas told Fox Sports after the win.

Rays flanker Jack Dempsey drives Michael Gunn back, in one of many heavy tackles at Ballymore. Photo: Getty ImagesWhatever Brisbane threw at the Rays in the second half, the Rays had an answer. And if City did manage to score, the Rays were always able to score next and maintain their lead. They won’t have liked conceding five tries, but the attitude is definitely on track with the finals two weeks away.

5. Demise of the fallen Champions

With their fourth loss in five games, Brisbane City’s defence of their back-to-back NRC titles is effectively over.

Sitting on just five points, the most they can accumulate now is 15, which is only one point more than the fourth-placed Vikings currently hold.

It's been a tough 2016 campaign for the only side to have ever lifted the NRC trophy. Photo: Getty ImagesThey would need bonus point wins over Perth and Queensland Country to finish the season, and even then they would need results in probably five other games to go their way, even just to sneak into fourth spot.

Considered a definite top four chance when the NRC kicked off last month, the loss of so many quality players – especially Liam Gill and Samu Kerevi – meant City haven’t just come back to the field, they’ve kept falling.