The Sydney Rays have their first NRC win for 2017, with a 48-28 bonus-point win over Melbourne Rising.
A solid southerly wind at Pittwater Rugby Park on Sydney’s northern beaches was tricky to deal with at times, with both sides enjoying the advantage either side of half-time, before a methodical Rays side closed out the game through their relentless pressure at the breakdown.
The game took some time to find its level in the opening stages, with the Rising looking really impressive in attack, playing with pace, and creating opportunities.
But the Rays' defence stood up and forced the mistakes regularly.
Sam Lane was having some nice early touches at flyhalf for the Rays, and after a half-break entering the Rising 22, a wonderful pass put winger Latu Latunipulu over in the left corner.
Rohan Saifoloi brought the conversion around on the wind beautifully, and the home side had the lead after 20 minutes.
Only a minute or two later, the Rays were in again, with clean lineout ball giving Lane more space, this time finding Latunipulu on his hip in midfield to score next to the posts.
A wonderful scrum set play near halfway was the Rays’ next party trick, with Paula Balekana running a great line to break through, before finding fullback Harry Burey on his left.
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Rays were suddenly out to 19-0 by the 28th minute.
The Rising needed to score next, and two breaks from winger Kitione Ratu looked like it was just a matter of time. Some patience after the second break was rewarded, with centre Sione Tuipulotu scoring beside the posts.
But the Rays were straight back on top, first scoring from a precision lineout drive to flanker Tom Connor, and then when centre Apolosi Latunipulu picking up a loose ball and running fifty metres to score. Saifoloi’s conversion made it 31-7, but that wasn’t quite it for the half.
Rays No.8 Hugh Sinclair was shown a yellow card after the halftime bell, and from the scrum option, the Rising won a penalty try to narrow the gap to 31-14 at the break.
With the wind at their backs in the second half, the Rising hit back straight after the break through Semisi Tupou, with Jack McGregor’s conversion a minor miracle.
After he’d started his approach, the ball fell off the tee, meaning McGregor had to quickly pick up the ball and kick a drop goal in the face of Rays’ charging runners.
Somehow, the ball went through the sticks, bringing the margin back to ten.
Jack Maddocks scored for the Rising next, after another Tupou break found Ratu, who somehow got a flick pass away in traffic of the Rising to score behind the posts. Suddenly, the Rays’ lead was just 31-28.
But they hit back only minutes later, crucially, with another Lane dart at the line from set piece creating another line break and resulting in another Latu Latunipulu try; the winger’s third.
A 72nd minute penalty from Saifoloi stretched the lead further, before a 79th minute try to lock Dave McDuling sealed the impressive win for the home side.
Sydney Rays 48
Tries: Latunipulu 3, Burey, Connor, Latunipulu, McDuling
Cons: Saifoloi 5
Pens: Saifoloi 1
Yellow cards: Hugh Sinclair (40’)
Melbourne Rising 28
Tries: Tuipulotu, Penalty try, Tupou, Maddocks
Cons: McGregor 3