NRC: The 2016 NRC final preview

by Brett McKay

They’ve emerged as the best teams remaining in the competition, and Saturday’s Final will see either the NSW Country Eagles or Perth Spirit lift the Buildcorp NRC Trophy for the first time.

It’s Country’s first appearance in the NRC Final, after losing a semi-final in 2014 to Brisbane City, while Perth will have a second shot at the Championship after losing the 2014 Final the following week to Brisbane City.

The two teams come into the Final in outstanding form, and both the Eagles and Spirit won through the Final with dominant semi-final wins last weekend.

NSW Country bring a seven wins, one loss record into the Final, and won through by putting away the Melbourne Rising in spectacular fashion last Saturday, scoring seven tries to three in winning 50-24 at Newcastle No.2 Sportsground.
Onehunga HaviliPerth enter the Final with six wins and two losses in 2016, and won through with good, old fashioned forwards dominance in their six tries to three, 42-24 win over the Sydney Rays at Pittwater Rugby Park last Sunday.

The Spirit’s two losses this season came to against the Rays in Round 2, and the Eagles in Round 5. They’ve already squared the ledger against the Rays, and now will be looking to do the same against Country on Saturday night.

The Toaster up for grabs in Tamworth. Live @FOXRugbyLive after Bledisloe @BuildcorpNRC gf @CountryEagles @PerthSpirit

Tamworth’s Scully Park will hold its first Buildcorp NRC match, after the NRL City-Country game was played there in May this year. The Final will be Tamworth’s third match in two seasons, however, with the Tamworth Pirates’ Chillingworth Oval hosting the Eagles-Sydney Stars game in 2015, and Tamworth Magpies Rugby Park hosting the Eagles’ match against the Melbourne Rising in Round 2 this season.

Country coach Darren Coleman has been forced to make two changes from his side that won last weekend’s semi-final, losing tighthead prop Tom Robertson and first-choice hooker, Tolu Latu to the Wallabies squad for the final Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland. Folau Fa’ainga and Sam Needs come back into the XV, joining skipper and Tamworth-local Paddy Ryan in the front row.
Tolyu Latu has impressed for the NSW Country Eagles. Photo: Getty ImagesIt’s an unchanged Eagles side otherwise, with consistent centre pairing Dave Horwitz and Kyle Godwin looking to continue their great combination, and with Godwin relishing another shot at his former Western Force and Perth Spirit teammates.

Sam Figg, Rowan Perry, and Sam Ward have been prolific so far this season in the backrow, and Rohan O’Reegan and Tim Buchanan team up again in the second row. Buchanan could become the first player to win two Buildcorp NRC titles with two different clubs, after being part of the 2014 Brisbane City Championship side to beat Perth.

Perth Spirit welcome last year’s Buildcorp NRC Player of the Year, Jono Lance, back into their side at flyhalf after missing the last two matches to injury. It means last weekend’s semi-final Man of the Match, Ian Prior moves to the bench, while AJ Alatimu is the unlucky one to miss out on the match-day 23.
Luke Morahan has been selected at fullback despite training with the Wallabies since Monday.

Dwayne Nestor has again named an unchanged forward pack that features former Wallaby prop Pek Cowan, young gun Ross Haylett-Petty, and Western Force regular and Spirit captain Heath Tessmann.

The side will feature seven players that went down in the 2014 Final to Brisbane City, including Morahan, Cowan and speedster, Marcel Brache.

The two sides last met in Round 5, where Country won 48-24 in the Buildcorp NRC’s first ever double-header at Concord Oval in Sydney.

NSW Country Eagles

Starters: Paddy Ryan (c), Folau Fa’ainga, Sam Needs, Rohan O’Reegan, Tim Buchanan, Sam Figg, Rowan Perry, Sam Ward, Jake Gordon, Andrew Deegan, Alex Newsome, Kyle Godwin, David Horwitz, Reece Robinson, Andrew Kellaway.

Reserves: Luke Holmes, Jed Gillespie, Cam Betham, Ryan McCauley, Tom Cusack, Mark Baldwin, Tayler Adams, Tom Hill.

What the Eagles said

“In terms of the NRC games this year, the big ones have been won in the forwards and then the backs have decided by how much. We both have good back lines, they’ve got a particularly good centre pairing and Jono Lance at 10. They’re similar to us in that way (good centres) and I think that’s what going to make for a mouthwatering final.” - Paddy Ryan, Eagles Captain

“They’re going to be strong, we always knew they would be strong.  They’ve had some good momentum into the playoffs so it’s going to be a good challenge.” - Darren Coleman, Eagles Head Coach

Perth Spirit

Starters: Pek Cowan, Heath Tessmann, Jermaine Ainsley, Kieran Stringer, Onehunga Havili, Ross Haylett-Petty, Richard Hardwick, Brynard Stander, Ryan Louwrens, Jono Lance, Semisi Masirewa, Ben Tapuai, Billy Meakes, Marcel Brache, Luke Morahan.

Reserves: Anaru Rangi, Laione Mulikihaamea, Shambeckler Vui, Grayson Knapp, Kane Koteka, Michael Ruru, Ian Prior, Eric Vasukicakau.

What the Spirit said

“It’s a privilege to make a grand final and the boys are in a really good place. There’s a sense of confidence and self-belief in the group that you obviously need going into a grand-final.” - Dwayne Nestor, Spirit Head Coach 

"You want to be playing in the big games and you want to test yourself against the best opposition. For me personally, versing the Country Eagles guys again is a good experience and a good time because I did play with them last year.” - Jono Lance Spirit flyhalf


Referee: Nick Berry

Assistant referees: Will Houston, Rohan Hoffmann

Television Match Official: George Ayoub

Where: Scully Park, Tamworth. Kick-off 7:45pm AEDT.

Today's triple header of Rugby action starts with the Wallaroos and New Zealand at 3:05pm, the Bledisloe Cup at 5:35pm, and then Buildcorp NRC Final at 7:45pm. All live on FOXSPORTS 502 (All times ADST)