Queensland Country have broken through for their first win, but a grandstand finish to the Buildcorp NRC has been beautifully set-up for next week.
1. No repeat heartbreak in Toowoomba
Just when a second crushing after-the-bell loss loomed for Queensland Country, their scrum held strong. Not only did they not concede a penalty try, but they actually won the penalty themselves, allowing them to put the ball dead and secure their first win of 2016.
And it was a well-deserved win, too, so to have lost a second game in those circumstances would’ve been a massive injustice for how well they’d played the preceding 79 minutes against NSW Country.
After they jumped out to 34-14 lead with half an hour to play, the Eagles got right back into the game, and so it was great to see the young Queenslanders had learned the lessons from the heartbreaking loss to the Western Sydney Rams last week.
2. Eagles remain top heading into the final round
With NSW Country losing their first match of the season, the calculators quickly came out as the Sydney Rays and Canberra Vikings took to the field in Sydney. Could the Rays claim top spot with a bonus point win?
Well, no, in short. Mind you, the way the Rays ran in tries at will the first half, you might’ve been excused for thinking they were building a case for a second bonus point!
But the bonus point the Eagles took from the two-point loss in Toowoomba meant that they extended their lead over the Rays to six competition points.
It meant that the Rays could get no closer than one point behind the Eagles, and after they did just that courtesy of their big 58-14 win over the Vikings, the final round next weekend is set up wonderfully well.
3. Plenty of sting in the Rays’ defence
Matt Lucas told Fox Sports after the win that he was incredibly proud of the second half defensive effort from his team, and so he should be after they conceded just one try in the second half to secure their huge win.
With a strong possession and territory advantage in the first half, the Rays would’ve known that these things have a habit of evening out, yet the always had the defensive answers.
The Vikings attack intermittent at best, but regardless, the Rays defence was superb. There must have been half a dozen occasions when the Vikings looked likely to score, yet the Rays managed to force the error and often come away with the ball.
Defence wins finals, and the Rays are setting themselves up for a huge tilt.
4. Vikings first half horror show
I’d only on Friday written of the Vikings’ roller coaster existence in 2016, something that their coach Wayne Southwell acknowledged was causing him a few issues.
“It’s probably our defence (letting us down) more than our attack at the moment, and probably more than anything, just a lack of possession,” Southwell told me this week, adding that his side had spent the week with Brumbies’ defence coach Peter Ryan.
So it’s fair to say being down 46-8 wasn’t part of the plan.
But it marks the continuation of a worrying trend. When the Vikings concede early points, they concede them in multiple tries, and their midfield defence in that first half was almost non-existent.
There’s no prizes for guessing how Perth will be wanting to start next Saturday in Canberra, now, either.
5. Sons of guns
The NRC is all about building the next wave of Australian rugby talent, and the wonderful flow-on from that is we’re also seeing the sons of some Wallabies greats coming through too.
Angus Scott-Young - son of Wallabies backrower Sam - crossed the stripe today for Queensland Country, and Jack Cornelsen – son of another great backrower, Greg – has featured for Country for the last couple of seasons, too.
The latest was Canberra Vikings flyhalf Alex Horan, son of the great Wallabies centre, Tim, coming on for his NRC debut in the second half and showing some nice moments in both attack and defence.