The Fijian Drua have won their first NRC title with a 36=26 win over QLD Country in Lautoka.
Fiji were favourites for the clash, finishing as minor premiers, but they had to pull out their full range of tricks to clinch the historic title against Country, the only team to have tasted vistory against the Drua in 2018.
The first half was a textbook slog, with the Drua relying on the power of their forwards and plenty of patience for three tries but as the rain began to dry up, the Drua began to fire up, with more open running chances playing into their hands.
Both sides have scored some spectacular running tries in the NRC this year but initially this was a game of raw power and strength.
Country’s early attacking pressure paid off in the fifth minute with some quick outside passes finishing off with a corner try to Chris Feauai-Sautia.
The Drua converted their string of chances became a try with no. 8 Eremasi Radrodro running over from the back of the scrum.
Fiji eked out some dominance at scrum time and it put them in dangerous spots but discipline, including a neck roll on Country winger Filipo Daugunu, cost them.
Country flanker Angus Scott-Young was damaging up the middle but was left isolated a number of times in attack, giving the Drua the chance to pinch crucial turnovers..
Lock Peni Naulago barging through the Country defence to score their
As much success as the Drua found in the scrum, their lineout was putting them in twice as much danger deep in Country’s attacking zone.
Jordan Petaia used his brute strength to notch one back for Country, swallowing a quick Tate McDermott recycle and dragging the Drua defence over the line.
Petaia’s score was his 10th of the season, making the 18-year-old the competition’s top try scorer for the year.’
Drua lock Albert Tuisue crashed over for the Drua’s third, finishing off an epic 23 phases of pressure, and only a desperate attempt from Caleb Timu stopped Fiji from extending their lead.
Just when it seemed the highlights would be all short-range scores, Drua hooker Musulame Dolokoto sprinted down the right edge and looked to have crossed before a TMO review denied him of the score and send the Drua into the break seven points up.
QLD Country lost loosehead James Slipper just two minutes into half-time, all but certainly ending his time playing in any kind of Queensland jersey with a move to the Brumbies looming.
Tuisue had his second in the 48th minute to seemingly put the hosts in control after another round of the Drua peppering the Country line before Filipo Daugunu responding just four minutes later.
Fiji's hits were stopping QLD Country’s attackers in their tracks and just one loose ball off a hit on Jock Campbell opened up the chance for NRC rising star Alifereti Veitokani to run over and stretch things to a 14-point margin, the largest of the game.
Efi Maafu struck off an unstoppable lineout maul to keep the gap to just one converted try with 10 minutes to go but the momentum still sat in the Drua's hands.
One pivotal scrum gave the Drua a penalty and a chance for Veitokani to seal the title for with less than two minutes to go.
It was just their second penalty attempt in the final and of the NRC 2018 season but it was enough to ensure they'd be walking home with the trophy.
Fijian Drua 36
Tries: Tuisue 2, Radrodro, Naulago, Veitokani
Cons: Waqatabu 4
QLD Country 26
Tries: Feauai-Sautia, Petaia, Daugunu, Maafu
Cons: Stewart 3