NRC season preview: Brisbane City

NRC
by Sam Phillips

After a lacklustre 2016, a star studded Brisbane City look every bit a team that's ready to bounce back this season.

City were the powerhouse of the NRC in 2014 and 2015, claiming back-to-back titles while playing an exhilarating style of rugby - the kind of attacking rugby the rest of the competition has emulated since.

But they were left without the likes of Liam Gill, Samu Kerevi, Karmichael Hunt and Quade Cooper for large parts of last season and it goes without saying that they were no where near as strong as a result.

The attack wasn't as slick and the defensive work was not as polished but with three of those four stars back in the fold this season, as well as a power packed young forwards core, new coach Mick Heenan has the cattle to take the men in gold back to the top of the competition.

SQUAD

PROPS

Markus Vanzati22Reds/Souths Queensland Schoolboys (2012), Reds U20s (2015), Brisbane City NRC (2015-16), Queensland (2017)

Sam Talakai, 25, Reds/Brothers Waratahs v British & Irish Lions (2013), Brisbane City NRC (2014-2016), Queensland (2015-)

Laione Mulikihaamea, 28, GPS Perth Spirit NRC (2016)

Salesi Manu, 26, Bond University Western Force (2012-2014)

Feao Fotuaika, 24, Sunnybank Queensland Schoolboys (2011), Australian Schoolboys (2011), Australian U20s (2013), Queensland Country NRC (2014), Brisbane City NRC (2015-16)

HOOKERS

Tonga Ma’afu 25 Norths Queensland Schoolboys (2009-2010), Queensland Country NRC (2014-15), Brisbane City NRC (2016)

Andrew Ready 24 Reds/Easts Queensland Schoolboys (2010), Australia A Schoolboys (2010), Reds A (2013-14), Australian U20s (2013), Brisbane City NRC (2014-16), Queensland (2015-), Wallaby XV (2016)

Maile Ngauamo 23 Souths Australian Schoolboys (2010-2011), Australian U20s (2013), Greater Sydney Rams (2014)

LOCKS

Kane Douglas 28 Reds/Norths Australian U20s (2009), Australian Wallabies (2012-), Rugby World Cup (2015), Queensland (2016-)

Lukhan Tui 21 Reds/Souths Australian U20s (2015-16), Queensland (2016-), Brisbane City NRC (2016), Wallabies squad (2017)

Daniel Gorman 29 GPS Queensland Schoolboys (2005), Brisbane City NRC (2014-15)

Michael Richards 24 GPS Queensland Schools (2010), Brisbane City U19s (2011), Brisbane City NRC (2016)

BACKROW

Adam Korczyk 22 Reds/University of Queensland Queensland Schoolboys (2012), Australian Schoolboys (2012), Reds A (2014), Brisbane City (2014-16), Queensland (2015-), Australian U20s (2015)

Michael Gunn 22 Reds/Easts Queensland Schoolboys (2012), Australian Schoolboys (2012), Reds U20s (2014-15), Reds A (2014), Brisbane City NRC (2014-16), Queensland (2015-)

Reece Hewat 19 Reds/Norths Queensland Schoolboys (2015), Australian Schoolboys (2015), Queensland U20s (2017), Australian U20s (2017), Queensland (2017)

Jeremiah Lynch 23 Wests Brisbane City NRC (2016)

Mitch King 26 GPS Queensland Country Heelers (2010,2011), Reds College XV (2013)

Pat Morrey 21 University of Queensland Queensland Country (2016)

Jack De Guingand 25 University of Queensland Victorian Schoolboys (2009), Australian Schoolboys (2009), Australian Universities (2012)

SCRUMHALVES

Nick Frisby 24 Reds/GPS Australian U20s (2012), Queensland (2012-), Brisbane City NRC (2014-2016), Wallabies (2016), Wallaby XV (2016)

Moses Sorovi 21 Reds/University of Queensland Queensland Schoolboys (2013), Australian Schoolboys (2013), Queensland Indigenous U18s (2013), Queensland U20s (2016), Brisbane City NRC (2015-16), Queensland (2017-)

Issak Fines-Leleiwasa 21 Sunnybank Queensland Schoolboys (2012, 2013), Australian Schoolboys (2012, 2013), Youth Olympics Sevens (2012), Reds A (2014), Reds U20s (2014-2015), Australian U20s (2014-2015), Queensland Reds (2015, 2016), Queensland Country NRC (2014-)

FLYHALVES

Quade Cooper (Wallabies allocated player) 29 Reds/Souths Australian Schoolboys (2005-2006), Australian U19 (2007), Queensland (2006-2015, 2017-), Wallabies (2008-), Rugby World Cup (2011, 2015), Brisbane City NRC (2014-2015)

James Dalgleish 22 University of Queensland Queensland U16 (2011), Queensland Schoolboys (2012), Brisbane City (2015-16)

AJ Alatimu 24 GPS Perth Spirit (2016)

CENTRES

Alex Horan 20 University of Queensland Queensland U20 (2015-16), University of Canberra Vikings (2016)

Henry Taefu 24 Reds/Sunnybank Queensland Schoolboys (2010), Australian U20s (2013), Brisbane City NRC (2015-16), Queensland (2016-17)

Samu Kerevi 23 Reds/Souths Queensland Schoolboys (2011), Fiji U20s (2012), Queensland (2014-), Brisbane City NRC (2014-2015), Wallabies (2016-)

OUTSIDE BACKS

Karmichael Hunt (Wallabies allocated player) 30 Reds/Norths Queensland State of Origin RL (2006-2009), Kangaroos RL (2006-2008), Queensland (2015-), Brisbane City (2015), Wallabies (2017)

Maalonga Konelio 27 GPS Perth Spirit NRC (2015-16)

Chris Kuridrani 25 Reds/GPS Fiji U20s (2010), Australian U20s (2011), Queensland (2014-), Brisbane City NRC (2014-)

Jayden Ngamanu 19 Reds/Souths Australian Schoolboys (2015), Youth Commonwealth Games Sevens (2015), Queensland U20s (2016-17), Brisbane City NRC (2016), Queensland (2017-)

Lachlan Maranta 25 Reds/Wests Brisbane Broncos NRL (2012-16), Queensland (2017-)

Ed Fidow 23 Wests Samoa Sevens (2016-)

Junior Laloifi 22 Sunnybank Victorian Schoolboys (2012), Australia A Schoolboys (2012), Australian Sevens (2012)

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON?

A disappointing 7th placed finish with just two wins was a far cry from the undefeated campaign of 2015.

Went from conceding 174 points in 2015 to 306 in 2016.

Combine that with a complete capitulation in points production - from 400 scored in 2015 to 216 in 2016 - and you have the recipe for a season that left many City fans bitterly disappointed.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER

Cooper will be a fixture in the City side this season. Photo: Getty ImagesQuade Cooper, with Nick Frisby a close second.

Every successful rugby team needs an elite halves combination that have played plenty of rugby together and this pair fit that description.

Saturday's clash with Fiji will be Cooper's first chance to show Michael Cheika he should be part of the Wallabies fold.

He wasn't in good form through the back half of the Super Rugby season and this NRC campaign is his chance to turn that around.

Simply put, there is no playmaker with Cooper's ability in the competition and if he's on all year, City will be very hard to stop.Frisby has spent plenty of time playing for GPS this year. Photo: QRU Media/Meggie WhitchurchFrisby is in the same boat, though his goal will be a different one.

He spent the majority of this year as James Tuttle's understudy and a big NRC season will put him back in Nick Stiles' calculations for the 2018 season.

It was the NRC that catapulted Frisby into some stellar Super Rugby form, which led to a Wallabies debut last year, showing he is more than capable of being one of the best players in the competition.

If both Cooper and Frisby fire, City are in for a huge year.

THE BOLTER

Hewat starred for the Australian U20s this year. Photo: World RugbyThere are guys in the squad like Markus Vanzati, Lukhan Tui and Adam Korczyk who have shown they are future stars for the Reds this year but this NRC campaign will be huge for Reece Hewat.

There are big wraps on the Australian U20s skipper at Ballymore and Stiles showed how highly he rates him by handing him a debut against the Highlanders in the final Super Rugby match of the year.

Hewat was enormous in every World Rugby U20s Championship match, tenacious defence and rugged carries from the first minute to the last stamping him as a star of the future.

He is a natural leader as well, having captained Nudgee College to a 1st XV premiership, the Australian U20s and already forming part of the City leadership group.

PREDICTION

City appear to be finals bound, with a star studded squad and one of the sharpest rugby minds in Queensland, Heenan, taking the reigns as coach.

They have the tools to go all the way and if they can secure a home final at Ballymore, they will be very tough to stop.

That will be the difference between a third title and falling one step short.