And with that, the Buildcorp NRC is done for another season. The competition’s most impressive season to date has seen the best Final yet, and Perth Spirit a very deserving 2016 Champion.
The Spirit’s three tries to two, 20 points to 16 win over the NSW Country Eagles at Scully Park in Tamworth came on the back of a remarkable second half defensive effort, almost belying the points-first prevalence that has existed throughout the season.
On a remarkable final day of the season, here what we learned and what we’re talking about.
1. Not quite the curtain-raiser results we hoped for
It really was a Super Saturday of rugby, with the Wallaroos and the third Bledisloe Cup Test the perfect lead-ins to the NRC Final in Tamworth.
Sadly, it wasn’t quite the results we were hoping to see from Auckland, with the Black Ferns putting the Wallaroos away 67-3, and the All Blacks keeping their Eden Park record in tact, beating the Wallabies 37-10 in a heartbreaker that will be remembered for the disallowed try to Henry Speight.
Both matches were shown on the big screen at Scully Park before the NRC Final, giving the Tamworth locals and those from surrounding areas plenty of incentive to find their vantage point nice and early.
2. The perfect start to the final
Perth probably should have been on the board in the first few minutes when winger Semisi Masirewa charged down an Andrew Deegan clearing kick, only to be beaten by the ball to the dead ball line.
From there, the traditional finals footy ‘softening up’ period took over, as both sides tried to gain the upper hand. Remarkably, the score remained 0-0 for half an hour until Luke Morahan did finally put Perth underway.
By this point, the Spirit forwards had already established scrum dominance, and probably wouldn’t have been that happy to be only leading 12-8 at halftime. Sam Figg’s try late in the half had got Country back in the game when Perth probably felt like they should have been further ahead.
3. Defence wins Championships
It’s the old adage. It doesn’t matter how many tries you score, as long as you keep the opposition to fewer than you can manage yourself. It’s a simple game, as Spirit skipper told us in the build-up.
Perth’s Championship was won on the back of their incredible defence. And it was all people were talking about in the second half:
Defence wins championships. #EAGvPER— Kieran L (@kieran_shaker) October 22, 2016
Even the Eagles were in awe. When the opposition is praising your defence before the game is done, you’ve done something right.
The Spirit defence is something to behold. They turn the ball over on their line and exit. We have had all the running but can't score!— NSW Country Eagles (@CountryEagles) October 22, 2016
4. Eagles will be hurting, but they shouldn’t beat themselves up
After they won through to the Final on the back of a superb breakdown and counter-attacking game last week, you always knew NSW Country were going to be up against it from the moment prop Tom Robertson and hooker Tolu Latu headed over to Auckland with the Wallabies this week.
Without those two, the Country scrum went back to being the shaky set piece it was before the finals series started, and with Perth’s scrum now a huge part of their game and giving them all the late-season momentum, you could sense the advantage heading to the team from the west.
Country threw everything into that second half, and had they managed to score their try eve just a few minutes earlier, they might’ve been able to go on with it.
The loss will sting for a while, no doubt, but NSW Country are to be congratulated for an outstanding season in 2016.
5. Spirit square the ledger to take 2016 title
Perth lost only two games in the seven rounds leading into the Finals series, 28-8 to the Sydney Rays in biblical rain on a Friday night at North Sydney Oval in Round 2, and then 48-24 to NSW Country in the Round 5 double-header at Concord Oval.
In last week’s semi-final, the Spirit got their revenge on the Rays, with a 42-24 set piece and breakdown-led win that gave us the perfect insight into how they thought they could win the title. They couldn’t have made their plans any clearer if they took out full page ads in the east coast newspapers.
Tonight, they got back at the Eagles, too. Country coach Darren Coleman said at halftime that his side needed to get quick ball, but the Spirit defensive breakdown was relentless and just never let them the ball at the speed they wanted it.
We all knew what Perth were going to do in the Final, but as Country found out, knowing what’s coming is only part of the equation. Doing something about it is a whole other story.