NRC: Cron and Hilton have their say on NRC Champion

by Brett McKay

The teams have been named, and we’re really heading toward the business end of the NRC for 2016 now. With the NSW Country Eagles and Perth Spirit getting ready to face off, we spoke this week with the two men who, with different results, would’ve been there themselves.

This time last week, Sydney Rays coach Simon Cron and Melbourne Rising coach Zane Hilton were finalising preparations for their teams’ respective semi-finals. But tucked away in their desks would have been the early drafts of their plans for the Final, which of course, they were planning on winning through to.

Thankfully for readers, both Cron and Hilton were happy to share their blueprints on both Finalists before heading off on holidays.


Sydney Rays coach Simon Cron

“The Eagles have a really strong tight five. They’ve got good weight in their pack and a strong scrum. They carry the ball well with their loose forwards trio and they’re very strong through the backs, especially their speed out wide.

“From my point of view though, you want to get line speed on them, and you want to shut down those ball-carrying forwards pretty early, and I think with the way we play, we’d have tried to attack them out wide, and try and find a disconnect between 13 and the winger, and try and break them out there before coming back the other way.

“Your kick chase and your set-up will be really important. A lot of these teams can have brilliant counter-attack, and Country definitely do. You’ve got Andrew Kellaway there, and Reece Robinson, and you’ve got to make sure on your kick chase that you set up properly to prevent them from getting too much space.

“Dave Horwitz has the ability to break the line, but also, Andrew Deegan will sit back when you kick to them, and he’ll quite often snap it back toward the sideline. You’ve just got to make sure you don’t leave your sidelines open, and get good line speed on the kick chase.

“It’s like with any team, if you let them have time and space, they’ll open you up, but if you can shut down their time and space, and you’re pretty organised in your defensive shapes, you can make it a lot harder for them.

“The tries we scored against Perth on Sunday showed that you can open them up out wide quite quickly if they don’t connect [in the contact zone], too, and I think Country will look to do that and expose them out wide.

“Their wingers have a tendency to jam in, and if you can get them to bite, you can open up their sidelines. 

“If I was Country, I’d look to play a pretty high-tempo game, and look to fatigue some of their bigger boys, because there’s definitely opportunities to be had."

“It’s hard to tip, I tell you that. I think Perth’s travel has to be a factor; they’ve come here, gone back, now they’ll come here again. Whereas Country, I think they’ve still got the vast majority of their guys from Round 1 still on the field, and they’ve done really well to keep them all playing. 

“They’ve got a good number of Super guys complimenting the likes of ‘Figgy’ and those guys, and I think Country will be hard to stop.”

Melbourne Rising coach Zane Hilton

“Spirit are a good side, but it is probably dependent on whether Jono Lance plays. They’re a very different team when Jono plays to when he doesn’t.

“Their ability to open up the back three with Jono there, and especially with Billy Meakes and Ben Tapuai in there; they’re a very formidable side.

“Marcel Brache on the wing, Luke Morahan at the back, it’s a very, very good backline, and what they’ve been helped by is a really good injection in the forwards: Heath Tessmann, Ben McCalman have all come back in, and those guys have been outstanding for them. 

Marcel Brache replaces Luke Morahan on the wing. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley“Regardless of travel, they’ll be tough to beat for the Eagles.

“The big thing for them is that I think their lineout is superior to the Country lineout. The Perth lineout has done very, very well throughout the competition, and I think at maul time as well, that will be something that the Eagles will really have to look at and be better at, or else they could be in trouble.

“Perth play with a really high line speed in defence, and especially with Billy and ‘Taps’ in the centres, but for us, we felt that there was probably some space in behind them.

“I think Deegan and Robinson on the wing, the Eagles’ attacking kicking game could really open up some opportunities for them, and it probably all comes down to how well ‘Mozz’ [Morahan] covers the back field; that’s going to be the big thing. There could be some space in behind on the edges, and I think the Eagles will really try and exploit them there. 

Deegan has made the step on from Club rugby this season for the Eagles. Photo: Getty Images“The Eagles’ transition from attack to defence, and defence to attack is outstanding. That was an area that we tried to be really good at this year, and there were times we were good, but the Eagles really are the benchmark on it. You make mistakes, and they can really hurt you, and they did that on four occasions in our game last Saturday."

“Personally I think Perth will do well; the Eagles have been the form team, but momentum is a big thing for them, and the Perth group, to do what they’ve done with the amount of travel is just exceptional, and I don’t think it will hamper them at all. Momentum is swinging in their favour. 

“Both really good sides, but with the momentum, I think Perth will get it.”

Catch the Buildcorp NRC grand final LIVE and exclusive on FOX SPORTS 502 at 7:45pm AEDT following the Bledisloe Cup.