NRC Sunday: Five things we learned

by Brett McKay

Round two of the NRC is in the books, with two ripping games of rugby playing out this afternoon.

So, what are we talking about after Canberra beat Perth at the death and the Rams proved too strong for the Rays>

Brumbies find power packed back rower

Eyebrows were raised last year when very promising Victorian born-and-bred backrower Rob Valetini elected to leave home and sign with the Brumbies but, based on today’s display for the Canberra Vikings, it’s easy to see why they chased him so hard.

The big No. 8 was outstanding for the Vikings, showing just how hard he is to stop when he gets a sniff of the try line and pulling off some crunching defence along the way too.

Plenty of Perth Spirit forwards certainly felt his presence at Viking Park.

With Jordan Smiler, Chris Alcock, Jarrad Butler, and Scott Fardy all moving on after the Super Rugby season, the NRC presents a huge opportunity for the Vikings backrow and Valetini has done his chance of a 2018 debut no harm at all.

He’s one to watch in the near future.

Naisarani hits top gear

He was one of the standout players of the 2016 NRC and in just two weeks, Spirit No. 8 Isireli Naisarani has shown that he’s going to be one of the competition’s best again in 2017.

Perhaps seeing his young opposite number Valetini enjoying a storming game proved the ultimate motivation, but whatever it was, Naisarani was virtually unstoppable in the second half and played a starring role in the Spirit’s second half comeback.

Of course, having made the move from Brisbane to Perth after last year’s NRC, Naisarani will be again using the competition to play for his future, now that the Western Force’s future in Super Rugby appears over.

On his current form, you’d think the four Super Rugby sides would be mad not to sign him.

Australian rugby isn’t exactly overflowing with barnstorming No. 8s and he’s just too good a player to be lost overseas.

Turner the early stats star

The Sydney Rays were busy cramming preseason preps and whatever else you have to do before a competition starts into one camp while everyone else played last weekend and the way they started, it appeared as though they spent the whole time running.

Fullback Josh Turner was pushing 200 run metres before half time, getting around the ground as if he were covered in spiders.

He finished with one try, a 75-metre sprint after taking an intercept in his own 22 and he could easily have had two more in the first half.

He was found to lose control of the ball while trying to ground it in the first minute of the game and then threw the last pass to Latu Latunipulu when a less team-focused player might have thrown a dummy and pinned the ears back.

The Rays are already nursing a bit of an ordinary injury toll, but in players like Turner, there’s certainly no shortage of attacking ability.

Rams bringing the attitude in 2017

It was interesting to hear Greater Sydney Rams skipper Jed Holloway talking post-match about his team-mates using Shute Shield or Super Rugby disappointment as a motivating factor in this year’s NRC.

Talking to Fox Sports post-match, Holloway referred to guys missing or bombing out early in club rugby finals, as well as himself, hooker Hugh Roach, winger Taqele Naiyaravoro, and rookie flyhalf Mack Mason’s underwhelming Waratahs’ Super Rugby season, and how that disappointment is driving them during the NRC.

“I think everyone’s playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, there’s a few of us coming off disappointing Shute Shield or Super Rugby seasons and we’re all out to prove our point, and that’s shown in these first two games,” he said.

The Rams have always wanted to play with a bit of attitude but haven’t quite had the game to match in seasons past.

Indeed, Holloway mentioned this was also the first time the Rams had ever won two NRC games on the trot.

But the attitude is different about the Rams in 2017.

Whether it’s the Eastwood takeover, or the change of coaching and playing personnel - whatever it is - there’s a harder edge to their play this season,and it’s undoubtedly working for them.

A stats opportunity lost

When the Vikings drew level with the resurgent Spirit with ten to go at Viking Park, and with the then 26-all scoreline looking like it could go either way, Green and Gold Rugby’s Reg Roberts hinted at a looming piece of NRC history.

He was, of course, right.

Not much gets past Reg where the NRC is concerned.

We’ve already had more penalty goals in 2017 than in 2016 and 2015 combined, but in the three-and-a-bit season of NRC rugby, we’ve never seen a drop goal even attempted.

And sure, the Vikings would score a try in the 78th minute and win anyway, but I can’t help but feel empty at the huge opportunity lost.

I bet, deep down, Reg is thinking the same thing.

It’s disappointing.

Come on, NRC teams, think of the lovers of obscure NRC stats!