NRC launch: What the players said

by Sam Phillips

The NRC season is about to get underway, with squads fine tuning their preparation ahead of round one this weekend.

At the launch today today at Allianz Stadium, spoke to the captains of each club, with the exception of the two Queensland clubs, who we spoke to yesterday.

Here's what they had to say.

Michael Ruru - Perth Spirit

As defending champions, Perth won't be resting on their laurels, according to Ruru.

The halfback also spoke to the importance of the Spirit in Perth, with the future of the Force up in the air.

"Last year was a bit of a surreal feeling but it's 2017, it's a new year, new team, new coaching staff and we are looking to do it all over again this year," he said.

"The clubbies have joined us over the last few weeks and they're really enjoying it and are keen to learn from the pro boys.Michael Ruru and the Spirit will be out to defend their title. Photo: Getty Images"Training has been going well and we are looking forward to ripping in this weekend.

"A few of the clubbies we have had in the team this year have really earned their spot.

"They've been continuously great for the clubs all season and deserve their spot in the team this year.

"Without Perth Spirit there is no real pathway.

"People have to move east or look elsewhere so having that NRC comp with Perth still in Perth is huge.

"It makes these young clubbies or young children, it just shows them they can still follow their dream somehow."

Darren Coleman - NSW Country Eagles coach

Fresh off winning the Shute Shield with the Warringah Rats, Coleman spoke about the pain his team experienced in the finals last season.

"We definitely want to take some momentum from last year and we have 19 of our 33, which is a pretty solid retention rate, so hopefully we can keep moving from that," he said.The Country Eagles will be in the mix again this season. Photo: Getty Images"Particularly the guys that were involved, it was a pretty ordinary feeling in the change room.

"We had a great regular season, smoked Melbourne in the semi and played a style of footy that was good to watch and we were all enjoying it.

"We got to the GF and Perth just choked us, we didn't feel like we really got to fire a shot.

"That hurt and I'm sure everyone wants to go one better."

Ryan McCauley - NSW Country Eagles

Eagles' rookie, rising lock Ryan McCauley, used Ned Hanigan's case as proof a player can go from NRC star to Wallabies regular inside 12 months.

"Ned has shown that it is possible," he said.

"He has played some really, really good rugby in the last 12 months so he has earned that opportunity and I think it shows this competition can propel you to that level."

Rob Leota - Melbourne Rising

Leota will use the competition as a gateway back to Super Rugby, having injured his knee earlier this season, one of many Rebels that have spent time on the sidelines.

He also spoke to the importance of a successful Rising season for the development of the code in Melbourne.

"I've been out for a while now but I am just putting that all behind me and I'm glad my rehab is going well and my knee is feeling good," he said.

"It's encouraging for us but not only us, the community in Victoria, the young boys that are playing there, coming up through U8s, U10s, U12s, all the way through to 20s and hopefully coming through what me, Sione Tuipulotu, Fereti Saaga and a lot of other boys have done.

"It's a privilege to be where we are and hopefully we see a few more coming through."

Jordan Jackson-Hope - Canberra Vikings

Jordan Jackson-Hope was one of the stars of the NRC last year. Photo: Getty ImagesAfter a disappointing year, Jackson-Hope believes an influx of new talent will push the Vikings to a more consistent level of play in 2017.

"We played well in patches of games but couldn't string together a great performance," he said.

"We have some younger guys that will bring some enthusiasm as a group and there are some club players there looking to put their cases forward so hopefully we can gel as a team and go really well."

Jed Holloway - Western Sydney Rams

After an injury riddled year, Holloway is keen to piece together a season similar to the likes of Hanigan and Jack Dempsey, who were in his position this time last year.

Defence will also be a big focus for a Rams team that leaked points aplenty in 2016.

"I've had a few injuries this year - disrupted my year and my form - so looking forward to swinging a good few at the back end of this NRC period and play some good rugby," he said.

"You've seen that with a lot of guys, like Ned last year, Jack Dempsey, all going from good NRC periods into Super Rugby and onto bigger and better things.

"It's definitely one of my goals this year is to play well in this competition and hopefully follow down that same path but we'll see how we go.

"We've discussed at training, we leaked too many points last year - I think we averaged 38 points against last year, so at any level that's not going to crack it, so bigger emphasis on defence this year.

"I know in a free-flowing competition like NRC it's not really highlighted too much but that's definitely going to be one of our changing points."

Damien Fitzpatrick - Sydney Rays

Damien Fitzpatrick believes Julian Huxley will change the shape of the Rays. Photo: Getty ImagesFitzpatrick said the Rays will look to use the momentum of another deep Norths run in the Shute Shield, as well as the injection of Julian Huxley as coach, to drive more success.

"Last year, we benefitted from a pretty strong contingent of Norths players, who were very successful in that period," he said.

"They've made the final this year, fell a few points short, but hopefully they come into our team now.

"They're pretty much the majority of our squad, so hopefully they come in and are pretty motivated to try and go that step further.

"Hux has been fantastic for our group.

"He was last year and this year when he takes over in the head job, he'll bring a different approach.

"We've got a few structures in place from last year, which I hope the squad come in and do continue on.

"But at the same time, we get a new head coach, particularly one like Hux, who's a pretty instinctive player in his day, I think he's going to bring a different element to the way the Rays play this year.

"We'll hopefully keep some of the structures that got us to where we got to last year but with a few tweaks and under Hux's helm, hopefully we can go a couple of games further."