NRC: Rays look to snatch minor premiership in Melbourne

by Marty Cambridge

Melbourne Rising and Sydney Rays meet at Frankston Oval in a match that will decide the make-up of the Buildcorp NRC finals.

The Victorian side were comfortably inside the top four last weekend before a slip-up against the Western Sydney Rams saw them drop to fourth.

In a boost for the team, Melbourne Rebels’ forward Colby Fainga’a is available to make his first appearance for the season and will line-up at no. 8 at Frankston Oval.

In all coach, Zane Hilton has made five changes to the match day 23, including the return of prop Cruze Ah-Nau and flyer Ah-Mu Tuimalealiifano.

A groin injury to Jack Debreczeni will see him miss his first ever Rising match since the NRC formed in 2014, with capped Wallaby Lloyd Johansson to step into the halves.

He will partner Nic Stirzaker, who returns from injury.

Colby Fainga'a playing for the Melbourne Rising in last year's Buildcorp NRC. Photo: Getty ImagesHilton confident his side can still be a threat in the finals series but knows they will need to improve greatly this weekend.

“This is about us getting back on track, we’re really disappointed with last weekend, so it’s about making sure that we get back to what we do well and turn up mentally on Sunday,” Hilton said.

“We missed an opportunity last weekend and now we’ve got to make amends against one of the better teams in the competition so everything is in front of us and the result of making the semi-finals is in our own hands.”

The Rays could possibly snatch the minor premiership from the Country Eagle’s grasp with a big bonus point win over the Rising but clearly have one eye on next week resting a number of regular starters.

Skipper and scrumhalf Matt Lucas moves back to the bench, giving Dewet Roos his first starting opportunity in Rays jumper for 2016.

“We’re lucky to have two very good scrumhalves in our playing group and I’m more than comfortable giving Dewet the starting role this week,” head coach Simon Cron said.

Matt Lucas has been one of the competition's best so far in 2016. Photo: Getty ImagesCron is also yet to decide on who will partner Roos in the halves, with regular number 10, Angus Sinclair and Sam Lane battling for the position.  

Lucas isn’t the only one to be rested, returning Waratah Damien Fitzpatrick also making way for James Hilterbrand to start at hooker.

The Rays have already guaranteed a home semi-final at Pittwater Park next weekend but will no doubt be looking to carry momentum into the playoffs.

Melbourne Rising

Starting 1-15: Cruze Ah-Nau, Pat Leafa, Tyrel Lomax, Sam Jeffries, Steve Cummins, Ikapote Tupai, Jordy Reid, Colby Fainga’a, Nic Stirzaker (c), Lloyd Johansson, Ah-mu Tuimalealiifano, Sione Tuipulotu, Tom English, Dom Shipperley, Jonah Placid.

Reserves: Siliva Siliva, Tom Moloney, Tim Metcher, Alex Toolis, Rob Valetini, Keisuke Yamada, Mick Snowden, Taiso Silafai-Leaana.

Sydney Rays

Starting 1-15: Ezra Luxton, James Hilterbrand, Angus Ta’avao, Connor Vest, James Brown, Jack Dempsey, Chris Alcock, Michael Wells, Dewet Roos, Sam Lane/Angus Sinclair, Harry Jones Irae Simone, Con Foley, Lochie Creagh, Josh Turner/Jonathan Malo.

Reserves: Damien Fitzpatrick, Rory O’Connor, Lawrance Hunting, Angus Ryan, Michael Smith/Harry Bergelin, Matt Lucas, Angus Sinclair/Sam Lane, Josh Turner/Jonathan Malo.

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