World Cup warm-ups for the Wallabies, Argentina and Samoa have left NRC teams without some of their best players but teams have still named star-studded squads for Round 2 of competition on Saturday and Sunday.
The action starts in Fiji on Saturday, with defending champions the Drua taking on the Western Force in Suva from 1pm (AEST) and looking for their first win of the season after a draw with Brisbane City in last week's opening round.
Proceedings then move to Adelaide, where Melbourne Rising take on NSW Country as they introduce young South Australian fans playing their junior grand finals to the next level of the game.
The final two matches of the round will be played in a double-header at Bond University on the Gold Coast on Sunday.
Brisbane City take on Sydney in the opening round, hoping to follow last week's draw with the Drua with a breakthrough win against the Rays.
Queensland Country will host the final match of the round, taking on a Canberra Vikings side in what looks set to be the match of the round despite the Vikings being without Rob Valetini after he was named to make his Test debut for the Wallabies against Samoa in Sydney on Saturday.
All times AEST
Saturday September 7
1pm - Fijian Drua vs Western Force, ANZ Stadium, Suva, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo
4:30pm - Melbourne Rising vs NSW Country, AA Bailey Reserve, Adelaide, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au, Foxtel and Kayo
Sunday September 8
1pm - Brisbane City vs Sydney, Bond University, Robina, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo
3pm - Queensland Country vs Vikings, Bond University, Robina, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo
FIJIAN DRUA vs FORCE
Samoan Test forward Henry Stowers makes a return to the Western Force squad for the club’s clash against reigning NRC champions Fijian Drua in Suva on Saturday.
An outstanding Global Rapid Rugby season for the Force led to Stowers' selection in the Manu Samoa Pacific Nations Cup campaign where he earned his first national team jersey alongside Force teammates AJ Alatimu and Henry Taefu.
Alatimu and Taefu made the cut for Samoa's World Cup squad and flyhalf Alatimu has been named on the bench for Saturday night's Test against the Wallabies in Sydney. But Stowers' focus will be on the Force and helping them to a win against the Drua after their thrilling opening-round fightback against Queensland Country in Round 1.
Stowers is one of five changes to the starting forward pack, along with prop Harrison Lloyd, hooker Heath Tessmann, lock Fergus Lee-Warner and loose forward Tevin Ferris.
Coach Tim Sampson has put his faith in his starting backs with no changes from last week's squad. Andrew Deegan will again captain the side after engineering their late win against Queensland Country.
After recovering well from a calf injury Feleti Kaitu’u returns to the matchday squad as does Chris Heiberg who was a late withdrawal in round one due to illness.
The Drua have made five changes to the starting XV that drew with Brisbane City at GPS in Round 1.
Drua to face Force
1 Joeli Veitayaki, 2 Maikele Sivo, 3 Mosese Ducivaki, 4 Tevita Naqali, 5 Necani Nawaqadau, 6 Eremasi Radrodro, 7 Ulaisi Lawavou, 8 Johnny Dyer, 9 Seru Vularika, 10 Peceli Nacebe, 11 Levani Kurimudu, 12 Cyril Reece, 13 Poasa Waqanibau, 14 Nacanieli Narequva, 15 Osea Waqa. Reserves: 16 Ratunaisa Navuma, 17 Timoci Sauvoli, 18 Jone KoroiDuadua, 19 Epeli Radaniva, 20 Rusiate Nasova, 21 Peni Matawalu, 22 Ifereimi Tovilevu, 23 SetarekiRaoba.
Force to face Drua
1. Harrison Lloyd, 2. Heath Tessmann, 3. Dom Hardman, 4. Fergus Lee-Warner, 5. Ben Grant, 6. Henry Stowers, 7. Tevin Ferris, 8. Brynard Stander, 9. Issak Fines, 10. Andrew Deegan (c), 11. Jonah Placid, 12. Nick Jooste, 13. Byron Ralston, 14. Kiti Ratu, 15. Jack McGregor. Reserves: 16. Feleti Kaitu’u, 17. Cameron Orr, 18. Chris Heiberg, 19. Johan Bardoul, 20. Carlo Tizzano, 21. Ian Prior, 22. Jake Strachan, 23. Grason Makara.
RISING vs NSW COUNTRY
Melbourne Rising will host NSW Country in Adelaide, with former Barossa Rams product Michael Maloney keen to come off the bench into the halves after getting his first taste of NRC action against Canberra last week.
The Rising have tied their Adelaide visit to South Australian Junior Rugby Union finals to help expose players to the next level of competition.
- Move from South Australia to Victoria to pursue rugby... ✅— Melbourne Rebels (@MelbourneRebels) September 3, 2019
- Win Dewar Shield Player of the Year... ✅
- Start at 10 in your first NRC match for the Melbourne Rising...✅
Get to know our @CitizenAUS Rising Star and Adelaide's very own Michael Moloney! pic.twitter.com/Zz8dlGvSLg
Former Brumbies and Western Force centre Rodney Iona will start at no.10 after moving back to his home state to play for the first time since his junior days at Moorabbin.
NSW Country will be out to repeat last round's effort after hanging on for a 38-33 win against Sydney in Round 1.
Jake Gordon and Mack Mason will again partner in the halves for the Eagles.
Rising to face NSW Country
1 Fereti Sa'aga, 2 Anaru Rangi, 3 Vaauli Faamausili, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Esei Haangana, 6 Joseva Tamani, 7 Pat Morrey, 8 Ikapote Tupai, 9 Theo Strang, 10 Rodney Iona, 11 Lolohea Loco, 12 Semisi Tupou, 13 William Lewesi, 14 Nailati Ukalele, 15 Justin Marsters. Reserves: 16 Mahe Vailanu, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 William Clift, 20 Maciu Nabolakasi, 21 Reece Fuller, 22 Michael Moloney, 23 Navarre Haisila.
NSW Country to face Rising
1 Matthew Sandell, 2 Aaron Blacklock, 3 Chris Talakai, 4 Connor-James Vest, 5 Tom Staniforth, 6 Pat Tafa, 7 Michael Icely, 8 Will Harris, 9 Jake Gordon, 10 Mack Mason, 11 James Kane, 12 Ofa Manuofetoa, 13 Nigel Ah Wong, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 15 Tim Clements. Reserves: 18 Cody Walker, 21 Jack Grant, 22 Connor O'Shea, 23 Joey Walton.
Brisbane City v Sydney
Junior Wallabies playmakers Will Harrison and Isaac Lucas were set to go head-to-head in this match as both look to the NRC to help build a case to wear the no.10 jersey for their Super Rugby clubs.
But with Harrison among five Randwick players - along with Mitch Short, Ben Donaldson, Christian Poidevin and James Ramm - released by the Rays to play against Argentina on Saturday, Lucas will come up against an even younger Wicks star in Tane Edmed, who will wear the no.10 for Sydney.
After a late try helped seal a draw against the Fijian Drua in the opening round, Brisbane are determined to be on from the start against the Rays, who fell just short against NSW Country last week despite a spirited fightback of their own.
City prop Josh Nasser expected to be taking on a more cohesive Sydney unit despite the loss of their Randwick players.
"I know the Sydney boys finished up their season only (recently), so they only got about a week's prep, so (their opening game) was probably them blowing out a few cobwebs to start," Nasser said.
"But in the last 60 or so minutes they really came back and they'll be a class outfit. They all play under the same structure, so we just expect the same sort of stuff from the boys who fill in, they'll have full faith in the boys coming in."
Brisbane City to face Sydney
1 David Feao, 2 Maile Ngauamo, 3 Josh Nasser, 4 Bradford Kapa, 5 Roberts Puliuvea, 6 Adam Korczyk, 7 Fraser McReight (c), 8 Seru Uru, 9 Moses Sorovi, 10 Isaac Lucas, 11 Jordan Luke, 12 Isaac Henry, 13 Bradley Twidale, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 15 Teti Tela. Reserves: 16 Sean Farrell, 17 Dane Zander, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Michael Wood, 20 Sam Wallis, 21 Nick Chapman, 22 Hunter Paisami, 23 Maaloga Konelio.
Sydney to face Brisbane City
1 Rory O'Connor, 2 Ed Craig, 3 Shambeckler Vui, 4 Ryan McCauley, 5 Tu'itakau Kioa, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 7 Joshua Kemeny, 8 TBC, 9 Jacob Abel, 10 Tane Edmed, 11 Tailiki Nadredre, 12 Tyson Davis, 13 Cameron Clark, 14 Trent Winterstein, 15 Jaline Graham. Reserves: 16 Declan Moore, 17 Harry Rorke, 18 TBC, 19 Jack Digby, 20 Jordan Goddard, 21 TBC, 22 Ellis Abrahams, 23 Henry Paterson.
Queensland Country vs Canberra Vikings
The battle of the young playmakers continues in the second leg of the double-header at Bond University, with Country coach Rod Seib naming Australian Schoolboys and new Queensland Reds squad flyhalf Carter Gordon at no.10 to take on Canberra's Noah Lolesio.
Lolesio was one of the Vikings' best in their opening-round win against the Melbourne Rising last week and is out to push his case to replace departing five-eighth Christian Lealiifano at the Brumbies next season.
The Vikings have again named a vastly experienced squad, including Super Rugby regulars Pete Samu, Irae Simone and Toni Pulu.
Coach Nick Scrivener has made just one forced change to his starting side, bringing Angus Allen in for fellow back-rower Rob Valetini after the Brumbies no.8 was called up for his maiden Test for the Wallabies against Samoa in Sydney on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Will Miller will continue to push his case for a start in the Brumbies back row with a strong showing against Country.
Queensland Country are coming off a one-point loss to the Western Force in a high-scoring match in Perth and centre Hamish Stewart said defence would be a priority for his side after their late capitulation.
"There were too many line breaks and just critical errors at critical times in the game, so we just need to tighten that up and I think we can get the win," Stewart said.
"Canberra are a very structured team, they've got a lot of Super Rugby players and they'll look to come out firing but we'll just look to play our game and hopefully it will all fall into place but it will be a very tough game."
Queensland Country to face Vikings
16 George Francis, 2 Matthew Faessler, 3 Carter Ozanne, 4 Angus Blyth, 5 Harry Hockings, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 7 Dillon Wihongi, 8 Harry Wilson, 9 Tate McDermott, 10 Carter Gordon, 11 Joey Fittock, 12 Hamish Stewart, 13 Patrick James, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 15 Jock Campbell. Reserves: 1 Harry Hoopert, 17 Bronson Fotualii, 18 Gavin Luka, 19 Jeremiah Lynch, 20 Connor Pritchard, 21 Reuben Wall, 22 Tom Lucas, 23 Dan Boardman.
Vikings to face Queensland Country
1 Fred Kaihea, 2 Connal McInerney, 3 Jake Simeon, 4 Darcy Swain ©, 5 Blake Enever, 6 Pete Samu, 7 Will Miller, 8 Angus Allen, 9 Ryan Lonergan, 10 Noah Lolesio, 11 Mackenzie Hansen, 12 Irae Simone, 13 Thomas Wright, 14 Toni Pulu, 15 Andrew Muirhead. Reserves: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Bo Abra, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Luke Gersekowski, 21 Seamus Smith, 22 Bayley Kuenzle, 23 Andrew Robinson.