Canberra returned to the winner’s circle with an emphatic 37-point victory over Sydney at Concord Oval.
After a first round loss to Queensland Country, the Vikings bounced back to score an eight tries to three win and despite a drizzly afternoon, did it sufficient power and pace to re-establish their NRC title credentials.
In their first game together, the re-formed Sydney team was up against it combination-wise after only training together twice in the lead-up.
And to make matters worse, they lost Rob Simmons on a few hours before the game when he was recalled by the Wallabies and flew to Brisbane.
With Norths lock Conor Vest also a late scratching due to a new baby, the Rays had to call up two players who’d not even trained with the team.
With players literally meeting on game day, Sydney’s lack of familiarity showed and Canberra took full advantage; The Vikings contrastingly had 14 of their 23-man squad involved in the Brumbies system and they looked well-drilled and single-minded in their duties.
Impressive hooker Connal McInerney scored two tries inside the first seven minutes via powerful rolling mauls, and another standout from the Brumbies ranks, winger Lausii Taliauli, scored the first of his two tries soon after after more Vikings pressure.
Powerful Randwick winger Latu Latunipulu pegged one back for Sydney after the hosts finally pieced together some possesion, and Curtis Rona got his arms free for an offload in a wide channel.
But when Canberra turned back to their main strength - the pack - they were relentless in their forward drive, and a scrum that had Sydney on roller-skates on their own line saw the Vikings given a penalty try and a 28-7 halftime lead.
The second half saw Canberra continue to use their big men up front to good effect, both in attack and defence.
Led by the dynamic Tuggeranong flanker Michael Oakman-Hunt - who pulled off a couple of bell-ringers - the Vikings’ defence simply wouldn’t let Sydney’s runners get any roll on.
But the Canberra forwards could, and halfback Ryan Lonergan scored with a dart after a long build-up.
The Vikings’ backs began to find more space as the game opened up and Mack Hansen scored wide next, before Taliauli picked up another with a superb loop play off Wharenui Hawera that exploited a just-arrived Sydney replacement in defence.
Encouragingly, perhaps, for coach Chris Whitaker, Sydney managed to build into the game in the final quarter and they scored two tries to Nick Duffy - after good lead-up work some Sham Vui and Ryan McCauley - and Harry Burey.
The Vikings finished off the game with an eighth try to Jordan Jackson-Hope after the siren.
Vikings coach Nick Scrivener said he was pleased to see his side respond to last week’s loss and the issues that were exposed in it.
“We got found out in a couple of areas last week and you have to fix it pretty quickly otherwise you get left behind (in the comp),” Scrivener said.
“We defended quite poorly last week so that was a big focus for us this week and I think we defended well today. Our discipline was a lot better than last week too so in terms of what we wanted to achieve from last week I think we did that.
“Our forwards at the start of both halves were really good. We haven’t seen them play before so we wanted to test them out at set-piece and got some early reward.”
Whitaker said a short preparation, and losing two players in the same position on game eve and game day, “was tough but it is no excuse".
“We have to better than that, and adapt and keep going,” Whitaker said.
“I am not going to use it as an excuse. We had two good training days. I think we just started slow and gave them too many opportunities to score points. You just can’t do that, you/re playing against the wind you know.
“I thought we scored a couple of good tries. When we showed some confidence, when we hung onto the ball and chanced our arm, we did some good things.
“But we lost the contact zone tonight and that’s something we have to work on, our defence.”
Whitaker said he was optimistic that team could improve quickly and with several key players returning, be much more competitive in their next outing against Brisbane City at Woollahra Oval next Saturday.
Tries: Latunipulu, Duffy, Burey
Tries: McInerney 2, Taliauli 2, Pen, Lonergan, Hansen, Jackson-Hope
Cons: Hawera 6