A Tayler Adams conversion after fulltime has given the NSW Country Eagles a dramatic first win for the 2017 NRC season, scraping past the Canberra Vikings in Armidale.
The losing bonus point will be cold comfort for the Vikings, after they got out to a nine-point lead inside the last ten minutes, and looked to be doing enough to take what had been a hard-fought affair at Bellevue Oval in the northern tablelands of NSW.
Eagles flyhalf Adams kicked an early penalty after sustained early attack to start the scoring, but the Vikings’ set piece asserted itself early, with hooker and new Brumbies recruit Folau Fainga’a scoring the first try of the match in the corner.
The match was proving as intriguing as this contest promised in the build-up, with momentum shifts regular. Some patient Country possession deep on attack was rewarded with a five-metre scrum, from which the Eagles dominated. No.8 Sam Ward controlled the dominant scrum well, heard the advantage call, and crashed over for his first try of 2017 in the 23rd minute.
Fainga’a had his second a few minutes later, with the Vikings going to a conventional lineout drive. The Canberra backs will say it was because of their involvement, but it was too much for the Eagles to stop either way.
The Vikings held the 14-10 for the rest of the half, but they to work for it. Tom Staniforth was having an outstanding game, and only a lack of TMO prevented a probable second try for Ward just before the break.
The second half stayed scoreless for the first twenty minutes, with both sides guilty of making simple little mistake that would undo any previous good work. NSW Country had a territory advantage, but were having real lineout trouble, while Canberra would cruel themselves with handling or breakdown errors.
Canberra outside centre Andrew Robinson then anticipated the Country short side attack superbly, swooping on a pass and racing away eighty metres to score. Wharenui’s Hawera’s third conversion put Canberra out by eleven with 18 minutes to go.
The Eagles finally held onto the ball in attack soon after, going one side of the field to the other for winger Alex Gibbon to score in the corner on his hands and knees, just when NSW Country needed to score next. Adams missed the conversion, however, leaving the home side trailing by six.
After both sides traded late penalties, the final minutes had all the drama of a Game of Thrones episode.
Canberra lost flanker Ben Hyne to what hopefully is not a recurrence of the knee trouble he’s had in recent years. But because the Vikings had made all their replacements, they had to play the final few minutes with 14 men.
Country had one last attacking opportunity, after Adams’ kick for touch put them just eight metres out.
From the maul, the Eagles went wide for a few phases, before outside centre Alex Newsome crashed over after the bell to give Adams a conversion for the win.
With fourteen Vikings running straight for him, the 2017 Ken Catchpole Medallist nailed the conversion, ending Country’s winless start to the season.
NSW Country Eagles 25
Tries: Ward, Gibbon, Newsome
Cons: Adams 2/3
Pens: Adams 2/2
Canberra Vikings 24
Tries: Fainga’aa (2), Robinson
Cons: Hawera 3/3
Pens: Hawera 1/1