Queensland Country beat Vikings in season opener

NRC
by Max Hope

Queensland Country have begun their title defence with a solid 45-35 win over the Canberra Vikings.  

The defending champions ran in six tries to five in their first 2018 fixture with hooker Alex Casey and winger Jock Campbell bagging doubles.
 
The first 10 minutes of the fixture firmly belonged to Queensland Country, who came out of the gates like a red-hot favourite at Randwick. 
 
The visitors dictated the tempo of the game and were camped in the Vikings’ half in the opening five minutes before Casey crashed their way over next to the sticks.
 

The momentum continued to carry for Queensland Country, who added another try to the tally following skipper Duncan Paia’aua’s pin point cross-field kick to Campbell, extending the visitors’ lead to 12-0 within the first 15 minutes.

The Vikings were keen to show the pace of their outside backs, throwing the ball from side to side with encapsulating movement through the hands.

Their attacking flair was rewarded instantly as hooker Folau Fainga’a, fresh off his Wallabies debut at Eden Park last week, crashed his way over for their first try.

The Canberrans did not seem phased by their possession, or lack thereof, in the early stages of the contest, especially when replacement winger Lausii Tailiauli found the gap in the QLD Country backline defence to crash his way over the chalk.

Wharenui Hawera’s successful conversion gave the home side an unexpected lead, despite seeing only one third of the ball at this stage.

It appeared the momentum had well and truly turned in the favour of the home side, however, when Country winger Campbell rolled the dice whilst facing a 3-on-1 overlap and streaked away to change, the flow of the game yet again.

It was clear that Queensland Country’s strength lay within their forward pack, picking and driving from the back of the breakdown at will, particularly in the opposing 22.

The Country lads’ forward strength rewarded with yet another five-pointer after the half-time siren, Casey bagging a brace in the opening stanza.

Despite the penalty count reading 9-4 in favour of the Vikings, QLD Country took a 24-10 lead into the sheds.

Just two minutes into the second half, Vikings inside centre Jordan Jackson-Hope slotted into the vacant flyhalf position following Hawera’s substitution.

The move immediately paid dividends, as the young playmaker put Andy Muirhead through a gap to cross untouched.

Jackson-Hope’s conversion meant only a three-point deficit split the sides with 35 minutes on the clock.

However, the defending champions didn’t go back into their shell, venturing back to the structure they knew best.

Second rower Angus Blyth burrowed his way over from close distance after 12 consecutive phases, before backrower Caleb Timu scored a carbon copy of Blyth’s effort in the 60th minute.

Fainga’a found himself in the thick of the action yet again when his solo run under the sticks bridged the gap to just 10 points, and when the Australian representative crossed for his hat-trick in the 72nd minute, there was just five points in it.

Jackson-Hope’s conversion set up a grandstand finish, the defending premiers leading by just three points with eight minutes remaining.

However, it wasn’t to be for the Canberrans, as replacement second-rower Rob Puli’uvea crossed with the match sealer in the 76th minute, dashing the Vikings’ hopes.

QLD Country captain Duncan Paia’aua told FOX SPORTS that despite the win there was plenty to work on for the 2017 premiers.

“It was a good start to the season,” he said.

“They really tested us today, it was pretty much a forward’s game today and our boys did well."

Queensland Country will now turn their attention to next Sunday’s clash against the Melbourne Rising, while the Vikings will head to the big smoke to tackle the Sydney Rays.

RESULT  

Vikings 35

Tries: Fainga’a 3, Taliuli, Muirhead

Cons: Jackson-Hope 3, Hawera 2

QLD Country 45

Tries: Casey 2, Campbell 2, Blyth, Timu, Puli’uvea

Cons: Tuttle 3, Stewart 2