The Horan-Little Shield has been decided for 2016, and ditto the Andy Purcell Cup in Queensland and the Benn Robinson Bell in NSW. Aside from engraving a new name on the NRC Trophy on Saturday night in Tamworth, there’s really only one thing remaining.
Earlier this week, that box was ticked as well. Along with rugby.com.au journalist, Marty Cambridge, and former Wallaby and Fox Sports commentator, Stephen Hoiles, we worked our way through all the talented and in-form options to come up with the NRC Team of the Year for 2016.
Check out the full discussion and hear all the debate for each position at the bottom of this page.
2016 Buildcorp NRC Team of the Year
1. Paddy Ryan (NSW Country Eagles)
We started off with a pretty unanimous choice for our loosehead prop of the season, with Ryan’s scrummaging, leadership, and at times surprising ball skills around the ground earning him the nod. Since switching from tighthead to loosehead for the Waratahs, Ryan’s game has really kicked on, and especially his ball carrying and offload game.
Hoiles: “Being Captain and a proud country boy, and the side’s winning; it’s amazing how you can play when you’ve got a smile on your face.”
2. Heath Tessmann (Perth Spirit)
The first of the positions with plenty of options, with Western Sydney’s Brandon Paenga-Amosa deserving of a mention, Sydney Rays’ Damien Fitzpatrick having a really strong return to Australian rugby, and Tolu Latu earning Wallabies squad selection on the back of his NRC form. But Tessmann’s form and especially his leadership was enough to win the vote.
McKay: “His last month, particularly, has been outstanding and he’s led Perth’s charge to the Final.”
3. Taniela Tupou (Queensland Country)
Tupou brought the YouTube clips to life in last season’s NRC, and he’s improved His scrummaging again in 2016, as well as proving so difficult to stop once he’s got some momentum behind him, he gave some fullbacks around the competition nightmares. NSW Country’s Tom Robertson, Western Sydney’s Dave Lolohea, and Perth’s Jermaine Ainsley earn mentions.
Cambridge: “He was sensational in a side who struggled a little bit in 2016.”
4. Izack Rodda (Queensland Country)
Injury late in the season has probably cost NSW Country lock Ned Hanigan a spot here, but Rodda got the nod on the back of a really consistent campaign in which he went from rookie bench replacement to starting player to a genuine player to watch in the space of seven rounds.
McKay: “He’s learnt so much off Brad Thorn in ten weeks, and he’s genuinely going to be a lock for the future.”
5. Lukhan Tui (Brisbane City)
Tui was the standout no.5 lock around the competition, and also showed off some handy ball skills and a destructive running game inside the opposition 22m. He’s only just turned 20, and already looks to have a huge future ahead of him.
Hoiles: “The amount of damage he was doing with the ball and in defence, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was on the Spring Tour.”
6. Sam Figg (NSW Country Eagles)
Marty Cambridge said he couldn’t go past Jack Dempsey from the Rays, and Steve Hoiles threw Canberra’s Tom Staniforth into the mix, too, but in the end x-factor and Dempsey’s yellow card trouble swayed the vote towards dynamic Eagles blindsider Sam Figg.
McKay: “Figg started the season really well and has just gone to new levels every game. He was outstanding on Saturday in the semi-final.”
7. Rowan Perry (NSW Country Eagles)
Tupou Sopoaga from the Western Sydney Rams, Perth’s Richard Hardwick, and Melbourne Rising’s Jordy Reid were all worthy candidates, but in the end Rowan Perry’s consistency in the minor premiership-winning side won out and was deemed an unsung hero in Country’s outstanding 2016 season.
Hoiles: “What I loved about Perry was that played really well in every single game.”
8. Isi Naisarani (Brisbane City)
I ambitiously opened with the Rams’ Tyrone Viiga for the No.8 spot, and he was the stand out Rams forward for mine, but it quickly became a losing argument. Naisarani found a home at the back of the City scrum once Leroy Houston answered his former English Premiership club, Bath’s calls for assistance, and proved to be one of the finds of the NRC. NSW Country’s Sam Ward also earned mentions.
Cambridge: “I honestly thought this would be unanimous.”
Hoiles: “In a Brisbane City side that struggled all year, Naisarani was the one shining light for me.”
9. Jake Gordon (NSW Country Eagles)
This one wasn’t that difficult at all, even with the Rays’ Matt Lucas earning a mention, because Gordon has arguably been the player of the season. His open running game has suited the Eagles down to the ground, and Gordon has benefitted from this as much as the Eagles in 2016. Equal leading try-scorer for the NRC (with the Rams’ Viiga) after the seven rounds, with seven tries.
McKay: “If we’re not all saying Jake Gordon, we’ve been watching different competitions.”
10. Andrew Deegan (NSW Country Eagles)
A much tougher selection, this one. Despite some excellent form, injuries worked against Perth’s Jonno Lance, and the Rays’ Angus Sinclair probably didn’t have the last two weeks of the competition that he’d have liked. Deegan’s combination with Gordon helped get him over the line, as did his superior goal-kicking to the other candidates.
Hoiles: “When you’ve got a side that has gone as well as the Eagles have, I think you have to look at the 9 and 10 as a reason why.”
11. Harry Jones (Sydney Rays)
Marty Cambridge threw up Melbourne’ Tom English here, before we worked out he played as much in the centres, and Steve Hoiles thought that Harry Jones didn’t get the ball enough for the Rays in the second semi. Jones was one of the leading try-scorers in the competition, and was in 2015 too.
McKay: “His ability to turn not even a half break into points has been one of the Rays’ highlights this year.”
12. Irae Simone (Sydney Rays)
I suggested that Perth’s Ben Tapuai finished the season stronger and even shaded the Rays’ Irae Simone in the semi-final, but Simone’s form throughout the NRC has been excellent, and a continuation of a standout season in Northern Suburbs’ Premiership in Sydney. Queensland Country’s Duncan Paia’aua, Western Sydney’s Paul Asquith, and the Eagles’ Kyle Godwin earned mentions.
Cambridge: “Irae Simone, for me, was the standout player in the competition, in any position.”
13. Izaia Perese (Queensland Country)
Probably the hardest position to pick, with NSW Country’s Dave Horwitz having an excellent season, as did Perth Spirit’s Billy Meakes. In the end though, Perese at different points led the competition for tackle busts, line breaks, and defenders beaten. And Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is a big fan, too.
Hoiles: “There was so much spark about Perese, he was one of my favourite players this year.”
14. Reece Robinson (NSW Country Eagles)
This was a much easier selection, with Robinson the pretty clear standout right winger. His combination with Horwitz for the Eagles was excellent, especially in broken play, and he just looks more and comfortable on a rugby field. Steve Hoiles wonders if he knows how fast he could be.
McKay: “I didn’t even bother writing an alternate name. He’s been fantastic.”
15. Tom Banks (Queensland Country)
A little bit contentious this one perhaps, and it’s quite possible that going away on tour with the Wallabies has counted against Perth Spirit’s Luke Morahan, which seems harsh. Both Banks and Morahan finished in the top five try-scorers, but Banks finished the season having made the most metres by any player.
Hoiles: “If you look at what the Buildcorp NRC is all about, it’s about young player taking their opportunities, and I think Banks has done that in every game this year.”
16. Damien Fitzpatrick (Sydney Rays) - The Rays hooker had an outstanding return to Australia and has signed with the Waratahs for 2017.
17. David Lolohea (Western Sydney Rams) - The 24-year-old was a standout even in a dominant Rams forward pack.
18. Sef Fa'agase (Queensland Country) - Hardworking young prop who was a bright light in a Queensland Country side that was on the wrong end of results.
19. Ned Hanigan (NSW Country Eagles) - Injury cruelled his 2016 NRC campaign but when he was on the field he was absolutely tremendous.
20. Jack Dempsey (Sydney Rays) - If not for a bit of ill discipline would have been in the starting side.
21. Matt Lucas (Sydney Rays) - Was superb for a Rays side lacking in Super Rugby experience and surely deserves more game time at the Waratahs in 2017.
22. Jono Lance (Perth Spirit) - Last year's NRC Player of the Year, had limited opportunities in 2016 but controlled the game nicely when he was fit.
23. Tom English (Melbourne Rising) - Most clean breaks for the season with 17 and this year's form has done his Wallabies ambitions no harm.
The Buildcorp NRC Final between NSW Country Eagles and Perth Spirit will be LIVE from 7:45pm AEDT on FOX SPORTS 2.