Cellar dwellers for the first three seasons of the NRC, Queensland Country have completed their incredible turnaround with a win the 2017 final.
Their six-tries-to four 42-28 win over the Canberra Vikings in Canberra gives Brad Thorn his first coaching title to go with his glittering record as a player.
A hat-trick to Filipo Daugunu, and a double to skipper Duncan Paia’aua were the highlights, as Country won the second half 35-8.
Country enjoyed the early territory advantage, and the majority of possession, too.
Filipo Daugunu went close to opening the account for the visitors, only for TMO Ian Smith to find he had a foot on the touch line in attempting to ground a late contender for try of the year in the 14th minute.
Country continued this advantage past the end of the first quarter, and opened the scoring through James Tuttle in the 20th minute, after skipper Duncan Paia’aua put winger Eto Nabuli into space just back inside their own half. Tuttle converted his own try for the 7-0 lead.
Canberra finally enjoyed some possession in the opposition half, and after their lineout drive got them close, sustained pick-and-drive sent centre James Dargaville over from a metre out in the 25th minute. Wharenui Hawera’s conversion levelled the scores.
The Vikings followed up with another try from close range to prop Harry Lloyd in the 33rd minute, and the sift in momentum was suddenly very obvious. Flyhalf Hawera threw a beautiful pass to put Tom Banks in space in the 38th minute, with boom flanker Rob Valetini crossing from the next phase. Hawera’s third conversion gave Canberra a 21-7 halftime lead.Queensland Country needed the first points of the second half, and some Daugunu acrobatics on the sideline in the 44th minute, and Tuttle sideline conversion brought the score back to 21-14.
Daugunu had his double in the 54th minute, after Paia’aua’s hard line run dented the Vikings line, finding Daugunu looming on the inside in support. Tuttle’s third conversion of the night levelled the scores at 21-all with 25 minutes to play.
Three minutes later, Country had the lead again, after Vikings scrumhalf Ryan Lonergan had his box kick charged down, with Paia’aua winning the race to the ball and scooting away to score under the posts. Just as the Vikings had done in the first half, Country had completely swung the momentum with three converted tries in fifteen minutes.
Paia’aua found himself in the yellow card chair in the 65th minute for a high tackle, with the Vikings taking advantage shortly after through Lausii Taliauli. Hawera’s fourth conversion drew the scores level for the third time in the match.Country were held up inside the last five minutes, but Paia’aua’s hard line run from the resulting scrum saw him cross for his second. Tuttle’s fifth conversion pushed Country out to a 35-28 lead.
Canberra needed to win the restart but couldn’t, and before they knew it, Daugunu was racing away for the match-winner. Tuttle kept his perfect record intact to give Queensland Country the final 42-28 score line.
Canberra Vikings 28
Tries: Dargaville, Lloyd, Valetini, Taliauli
Cons: Hawera 4
Queensland Country 42
Tries: Daugunu 3 Paia’aua 2, Tuttle
Cons: Tuttle 6
Yellow Cards: Paia’aua (65’)