The Canberra Vikings fell just short of finals in 2016, but a host of young talent mixed with Super Rugby quality makes them a greater threat this season.
Captained by Tom Cusack, who starred in the John I Dent Cup this season for the undefeated Royals, their forward pack has plenty of grunt, with Wallabies lock Sam Carter also among the group.
Their younger brigade will be influential as well, with capped Brumbies Jordan Jackson-Hope and Tom Banks in the back line to set the tone in attack.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?
Just one bonus point separated the Vikings from the finals in 2016, after the closest NRC season yet.
The games they lost blew out at times, costing them when finals were decided, a fact they’ll need to address in 2017.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER
Leadership is a highly-valued commodity in the NRC, where youngsters take the reins for the most part.
Having a Test lock and Brumbies co-captain in your ranks can only boost that, and Sam Carter’s involvement will be a crucial one for the Vikings this season.
Carter will be looking to work his way back into the Test scene through his NRC form, and that alone makes him a dangerous weapon to have in the side.
Tom Banks showed his bag of tricks for the Brumbies this season and the Queenslander will be back to take that to another level.
A smart fullback, Banks is a strong finisher with plenty of pace on him and the NRC is a chance for the 23-year-old to truly announce himself on the professional stage.
Look out also for Gungahlin flyhalf, Mack ‘Bernie Junior’ Hansen, who lit up the club rugby scene on debut for the Eagles this year, before signing a full-time Super Rugby contract.
The Vikings will be in the mix, but it will be difficult for them to take the step up into 2017.
If they can keep their losses closer and close out those tight matches, they'll be pushing for playoffs again.