Defence the key to NRC glory, says Queensland Country coach

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Defence will be the key to Queensland Country remaining undefeated against the Fijian Drua and claiming back-to-back NRC titles, according to coach Rod Seib.

Queensland Country were the only side to beat the in-form Fijians this year, when they downed the Drua 52-32 in Mackay in round three.

They played them twice last year, too; triumphing in their semi-final clash and perhaps more crucially, in a 24-17 win at the venue of tomorrow's NRC Grand Final - Churchill Park in Lautoka.

For Fiji, the decider sets up a perfect showdown: they must overcome their last-remaining nemesis to claim an historic NRC title.

And for Queensland - who won the 2017 NRC crown - the equation is also simple: they must stop Fiji. Which is easier said than done.

"We go in with confidence as a result of that (win in round 3) but we have a lot of respect for the Drua and the way they play the game," Seib said.

"We know at any one time there are 15 attacking threats on the field, so if our defence is up to the challenge I think we are in with a fight.

"But we know they’re an outstanding team the Drua, so we expect they will throw everything at us. 

"We tend to play well when we have a bit of time to prepare so this is a really great opportunity to come together a couple of days before the game and make sure we’re well prepped and the guys are firing."

Country captain Duncan Paia'aua echoed his coach's sentiments.

"Obviously we have never lost to Fiji but we have watched them through this season and I think they have improved since that loss to us in Mackay," he said.

"They have been playing really good footy, especially playing In Fiji at home.

"They’ll have a big home ground advantage and a supporter base behind them. They’re going to be very tough to beat."

Queensland are gunning for successive titles but one man who'll be in the back of their minds is halfback James Tuttle.

Tuttle, who has long been earmarked as one of the Reds’ long-term halfback prospect, suffered a heartbreaking achilles injury in last weekend’s NRC semi-final, ending his campaign and delaying the start of his 2019 Super Rugby season.

Tate McDermott will start in his absence in the grand final but ‘Bobby’, who has been critical to Country’s success, will add extra motivation for the entire team.

“Bobby's been a crucial part of this team for so many years,” he said.

“So, to see that happen on the weekend is obviously really disappointing and I wish him all the best in his recovery and we'll miss him but I guess you could say we will be doing it a little bit for Bobby this weekend and everyone will do their bit for him.”

McDermott and Tuttle have split the starting duties this season and the former said he had learned a lot off his teammate in his first year of Super Rugby.

James Tuttle and Queensland Country are in the mix for the top spot. Photo: Getty ImagesA strong outing on Saturday could push McDermott's Super Rugby case for 2019 as well, though the opportunity has come in unfortunate circumstances.

“Bobby's a really good mate of mine and he's taught me a lot since I arrived at the Reds last year so to have him be by my side for so long, it's been really good for my development on and off the field,” he said.

“I can just learn a lot from him, whether that's on the field doing my skills and stuff like that or if it's off the field getting around the boys and stuff like that.

“He's been a big part of my journey so far and I'm really thankful to have him around.”

The former Aussie Sevens player has risen up the ranks this season after his Super Rugby debut and promising appearances for the Junior Wallabies in the World Rugby U20 Champs.

This time last year, he was a bench warmer for Country and though he was named in the 23 he did not play a minute of the side’s triumphant grand final against the Vikings.

He will certainly make some minutes on Saturday after establishing himself as one of Queensland’s top flight halfbacks.

“I didn't think I'd be playing the level of footy I am at the moment, so to have a few Reds caps three and JW and stuff like that, it's been awesome for me and something I've learned a lot off,” he said.

“I’ve still got a long way to go, so it's been eye opening to see how far I've come this year and hopefully one more journey to go and get this win on the weekend.”

Queensland Country travelled to Fiji on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s Lautoka final against the Drua.

Queensland Country take on the Drua in the NRC final on Saturday October 27, kicking off at 2:30pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS.