Canberra has kicked off its NRC season with a 48-40 win over Queensland Country, keeping their perfect record over their northern rivals intact.
Country was on top for much of the afternoon and a blistering second-half start gave them the biggest lead of the match, at 14, before the Vikings piled on 22 unanswered points in the last 20 minutes to lock in the win.
Neither side seemed affected much by the reversion to traditional point-scoring, with 13 five-pointers run in over the season opener.
In a battle of two strong forward packs, it was the electrifying work of Canberra’s backline, led by Queenslander Tom Banks, that gave the Vikings an early advantage, with the wind at their backs.
Flanker Caleb Timu had Country’s first try in the 12th minute, capitalising on a strong Queensland scrum to go over.
Vikings fullback Banks stuck a knife in his some of his former teammates, collecting a high ball and streaking down the left edge, before putting Andrew Robinson over and then adding his own try to give Canberra the lead.
Queensland captain Duncan Paia’aua notched another for Queensland Country, the first of his double on Saturday, but another Queenslander in Andrew Muirhead hit back for the Vikings to put them in front.
The Vikings put themselves under pressure after the break and it was tighthead prop Sef Faagase who reaped the rewards for Queensland Country, before Duncan Paia’aua’s second put them in the box seat.
It was a one-two punch from the Vikings that flipped the half on its head, first through a running Ben Hyne score and then a Joe Powell pick-and-go, nullified that lead.
Country’s errors put them in a vulnerable spot and when Vikings prop Joel Penders added Canberra’s sixth try of the afternoon, things began to unravel for the visitors.
Reckless penalties kept the ball in the Vikings’ hands, along with the scoreboard advantage, showing some signs of the issues that have plagued them in recent seasons.
Though they found some joy in the rolling maul in the first half, the Vikings rarely had the opportunity to use their trademark tool, with their lineout patchy against a solid Country pack.
It took until the 76th minute for the Vikings to opt for the sticks, with Wharenui Hawera putting the margin beyond a converted try and sealing the game.
Tries: Robinson, Banks, Muirhead, Abel, Hyne, Powell, Penders
Cons: Hawera 4
Queensland Country 40
Tries: Paia’aua 2, Timu, Tuttle, Scott-Young, Faagase
Cons: Tuttle 4