The Western Sydney Rams have given the Buildcorp NRC table a huge shake-up with their big upset win over the Rising, while Perth Spirit have slid nicely into the semi-finals box seat with final round of the competition just a week away.
1. Fingerprints all over the Shield
It only changed hands once for the whole 2015 season after its inception, but now the Horan-Little Shield has had four different holders in the last five weeks.
Brisbane City’s first successful defence in Round 2 – against the Rams, coincidentally – was followed up with the University of Canberra Vikings wresting the Shield from their stranglehold in Round 3. The Vikings held it for one defence, and then lost it themselves last week to Melbourne Rising.
The Rising showed the Shield a good night of celebrations – we’ve all seeing Tom English’s Instagram feed – but their reign was over before it began, handing it over in spectacular fashion to the Rams.
Western Sydney will now defend the Horan-Little Shield in Sydney next weekend against NSW Country at Concord Oval, with the winner to be crowned the 2016 holders.
2. Rams hoist the semi-final wet sail
Western Sydney’s 68-30 thumping of Melbourne has halted the Rising’s charge to the NRC top two, and it’s also made things just that little bit more interesting for the final round next weekend.
Three of the four games in Pacific Islands Round will have top four implications, and the Rams’ hefty bonus point win has attached themselves to that mid-table backlog of teams.
The Rams will need to beat NSW Country, of course, but depending on results for the Rising, Vikings, and Perth Spirit, the Rams could yet sneak into that final playoffs spot.
3. Rising pick the wrong week to get rocky
Just when Melbourne Rising looked to be in the box seat for the finals, and even in position to challenge for a home semi, their 68-30 thumping at the hands of Western Sydney has pushed them to fourth and looking vulnerable.
Had this result gone as expected, the Rising would have found themselves in a position where a win at home next week over the second-placed Sydney Rays could’ve been enough to secure a home semi-final the following weekend.
Instead, now the Rising will be battling just to remain in the four, and will have the Vikings and even the Rams now snapping at their heels in the final round.
4. Perth rocket into contention
The complete mirror image of Melbourne’s Sunday was wearing a Perth Spirit jersey, and their big 60-22 win over Brisbane City in the west has vaulted them from fifth to third on the overall standings.
Spirit coach Dwayne Nestor told me a bit over a week ago that his side is going to be one that likes starting fast, before backing their defence to finish off game, but against City, they started somewhat slowly before running in six second half tries to ice the game in style.
They’ll take great momentum now into their final game, a virtual quarter-final in Canberra against the Vikings. And starting fast would be a great idea, too; all three of the Vikings’ losses have come on the back of conceding big first half leads.
A second NRC Finals Series is Perth’s for the taking.
5. McCalman does his recall chances no harm
With all eyes on how Wallabies backrower Sean McMahon pulls up after picking up an ankle injury in the loss to South Africa overnight, discussion of who might replace him for the historic Test at Twickenham in London against Argentina next weekend was inevitable.
For clarity, my understanding is that no decision has been made on a replacement, or even if a replacement will be required at all. Talk of Ben McCalman jumping on a London-bound plane is just that at the moment; talk.
But regardless, McCalman can’t have done anything more, playing another excellent game for Perth Spirit as requested by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
A try-scoring double against Brisbane City came via the set piece; one through a lineout drive, the second via a pushover scrum. But McCalman carried well throughout the game, and played a pig part in the Perth defence holding solid through the middle. A well-timed and quality performance, for sure.