On a crazy day of NRC results, the Sydney Rays have pulled off the third upset in three games, beating Perth Spirit 44-31 in Perth.
It was the first time since round seven, 2015 that the Spirit had lost at their McGillivray Oval home ground, and it has put their finals chances in a very shaky spot.
After Brisbane City’s loss to Greater Sydney beforehand, this game was crucial for the home side, and Perth even opened with plenty of attacking intent. Flanker Kane Koteka continued his strong NRC campaign early and he was over for the first try of the game in the third minute.
A couple of Bryce Hegarty penalties brought the margin back to one point, but Perth were soon on attack again, with James Verity-Amm scoring in the corner.
Perth then scored two brilliant tries in two minutes, with Clay Uyen scoring in the 22nd minute after a superb offload from hooker Anaru Rangi, and lock Richie Arnold crossing in the 24th minute after a rampaging run to the corner. Peter Grant converted the first, but not the second, and the Spirit were away to a 24-6 lead.
Referee Angus Gardner followed through on a yellow card threat against Perth, with Spirit lock Matt Philip earning a yellow card in the 29th minute, which the Rays happily took advantage of.
Flanker Tom Connor scored after a strong eight-on-seven scrum, following a strong run from Irae Simone.
Then scrumhalf Harry Nucifora then pulled out a wonderful piece of individual play, chipping ahead for himself and getting a superb bounce to race away and score under the posts. Hegarty’s conversion made it just 24-20, with the Rays holding this margin into the halftime break.
A great set piece try after the break saw the Rays take the lead soon after halftime, with Rob Buaserau finishing off a lovely passage to score in the corner. Nucifora’s conversion made it 27-24 to the visitors.
The Spirit’s handling errors were starting to mount against then, offering too many opportunities to the Rays, for which the visitors made them pay in the 54th minute with Nucifora going in for his second try.
Verity-Amm scored a much-needed try as Perth tried to get back in the game, his second, to bring the margin back to within reach, but then the Rays scored two more tries to maintain the upper hand.
Irae Simone scored from a lineout set play in the 63rd minute, and then Buaserau followed in the 68th minute for his second of the day. Rohan Saifoloi’s conversion made it 44-31, and a third upset for the day was very much on the cards.
Try as they might, Perth just could not stop coughing up the ball, and it was becoming self-fulfilling; the harder they tried to hold possession, the more they lost it. And longer it went on, the more it became terminal.
In the end, it was a well-deserved win to the Rays, who minimised their mistakes, and just got better and better at punishing the Spirit for theirs.
Perth Spirit 31
Tries: Verity-Amm 2, Koteka, Uyen, Arnold
Cons: Grant 3
Yellow Cards; M. Philip (29’)
Tries: Nucifora 2, Buaserau 2, Connor, Simone
Cons: Hegarty 2 H. Nucifora, R. Saifoloi
Pens: Hegarty 2