Round 6 is Rural Aid Round in the NRC, with Rugby Australia partnering with the organisation to raise funds for farmers and regional communities affected by one of the most severe droughts in memory.
All funds raised at the four matches over the weekend, including the Queensland Country-NSW Country clash, will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Rugby Australia, who kicked off the fundraising efforts with a $5000 donation.
Donations can also be made online and those over $2 are tax deductible and donations can be made to purchase hay for farmers, a hamper for their families or water for their animals.
Meanwhile, the penultimate round of fixtures will go a long way to determining which teams make the NRC finals, with three teams tipped into sudden-death matches this weekend.
With a minimum of four wins likely to be needed to make the semis, Melbourne Rising, Queensland Country and Brisbane City need to win both remaining fixtures to have a chance, while the Vikings and Eagles still need another win to be assured of their places in the post-season.
With all four matches capable of having an outcome on the competition and many officials in Japan, the proposed trial of a law interpretation to keep track of fouls each team has committed and penalise teams with a yellow card if they breach the threshold, has been scrapped.
The NRC has been played with two law variations this season - the introduction of a 50-22 kick and the move to scrap 5m scrums for an attacking side when a player is held-up in goal, instead giving a goal-line dropout to the defending team.
Both have been successfully adopted and while Rugby Australia's director of rugby, Scott Johnson, had been keen for the trial to go ahead, the inability of officials to police the move operationally in the final two weeks of the season has seen the idea scrapped for now.
The law variation was to be trialed in matches featuring teams out of finals calculation but all four matches this week - and likely all but one next week - will have a bearing on the make-up of the semis, leaving only one opportunity to put the variation into action.
Action this week starts on Saturday, with Canberra hosting Sydney at Viking Park from 12pm, ahead of the clash between the Rising and Fijian Drua in Melbourne from 5pm, following the Wallabies-Uruguay match.
On Sunday, Queensland Country take on NSW Country at Bond University from 4pm, with the Western Force hosting Brisbane City in Perth from 6pm AEST.
Watch every game LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo, as well as the Canberra-Sydney clash on Fox Sports.
Saturday, October 5
12pm - Canberra Vikings vs Sydney at Viking Park, Canberra, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au, Kayo and Fox Sports
5pm - Melbourne Rising vs Fijian Drua at Casey Fields, Melbourne, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo
Sunday, October 6
4pm - Queensland Country vs NSW Country Eagles at Bond University, Gold Coast, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo
6pm - Western Force vs Brisbane City at UWA Sports Park, Perth, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo
CANBERRA VIKINGS VS SYDNEY
Wallabies squad halfback Joe Powell returns to the starting side for the Vikings after guiding them to victory over the Fijian Drua in a crucial match last week. The Canberra side can lock in their semi-final spot with a win over Sydney on Saturday and while the visitors have won just once this season, they will be out to play spoilers in the capital.
The Vikings finish the regular season with three home games and after notching a win in the first one last week, will be out to continue the momentum into the playoffs.
Towering Junior Wallabies lock Nick Frost has earnt a start alongside Darcy Swain, with the Vikings again set to use their pack strength and dominance at the set piece to spark their attack.
Coach Nick Scrivener said it was "important" to get minutes into Frost ahead of the finals and with Blake Enever having played big minutes this season, he felt it was time to refresh his tight forwards.
"It's important particularly with the workload of locks and tight forwards. If they come on and they haven't played any rugby, it can bite you on the bum," Scrivener said.
And while Sydney have not been overly impressive so far this season, Scrivener is well aware of their potential to cause an upset.
"They've got strike power and we are well aware that if we're not playing well, you can get done and we've shown that. Sydney whacked Queensland Country in Round 3 and they're a formidable side if you give them access into the game.
Vikings to face Sydney: 1. Bo Abra, 2. Connal McInerney, 3. Angus Wagner, 4. Darcy Swain (c), 5. Nick Frost, 6. Pete Samu, 7. Will Miller, 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Bayley Kuenzle, 11. Mack Hensen, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Len Ikitau, 14. Tom Wright, 15. Tom Banks. Reserves: 16. Lachlan Lonergan, 17. Fred Kaihea, 18. Thomas Ross, 19. Blake Enever, 20. Angus Allen, 21. Ryan Lonergan, 22. Toni Pulu, 23. George Morseu.
Sydney to face Vikings (from): Ru MacKenzie, Rory O'Connor, Charles Abel, Ryan McCauley, Tuitakau Kioa, Sambeckler Vui, Jack Digby, Charlie Gamble, Jordan Goddard, Jacob Abel, James Ramm, Lalakai Foketi (c), Jaline Graham, Joe Cotton, Wayne Borsak, , Declan Moore, Christian Poidevin, Mitch Short, Tyson Davis, Ed Craig, Cameron Clark, Harry Burey, Jack Digby, Will Harrison
MELBOURNE RISING VS FIJIAN DRUA
Melbourne Rising coach Pom Simona has called in his local Fijian reinforcements in an effort to nullify the Fijian Drua at Casey Fields this Saturday.
Centre William Lewesi will join Box Hill trio Nailati Ukalele, Delai Moto and Lolohea Loco in a Rising squad bristling with attacking flair.
“One of the things we’ve been able to do in the last few weeks is name a consistent match day 23 which has transpired into some improved results,” said Simona.
“Unfortunately losing our captain Semisi (Tupou) to a knee injury changes the nature of our attack somewhat, but it gives William (Lewesi) an opportunity to test himself against the reigning premiers.
“I know he and Nailati will be super excited to be starting a game which will hold extra significance for them and we want that energy to wear off on the rest of the team.”
The Rising have won two on the trot after losing their first three games of the season and need to win their remaining two fixtures to seal a semi-final spot, while the Drua continued an up-and-down season with a loss to the Vikings in Canberra last week, a result that could end their title defence.
Rising to face Drua: 1. Matt Gibbon, 2. Mahe Vailanu, 3. Vaauli Faamausili, 4. Ross Haylett-Petty, 5. Esei Haangana, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Rob Leota, 9. Theo Strang, 10. Rodney Iona, 11. Ahmu Tuimalealiifano, 12. James Sooialo, 13. William Lewisi, 14. Nailati Ukalele, 15. Justin Marsters. Reserves: 16. Moli Sooaemalelagi, 17.Tetera Faulkner, 18. Jermaine Ainsley, 19. Ola Tauelangi, 20. Ikopote Tupai, 21. Delai Moto, 22. Lolohea Loco, 23. Navarre Haisila.
Drua to face Rising: 1. Joeli Veitayaki, 2. Tevita Ikanivere, 3. Ratu Penijamini Makutu, 4. Peni Nabureitau, 5. Tevita Naqali, 6. Filimoni Camaitovu, 7. Ulaisi Lawavou, 8. Eremais Radrodro, 9. Peni Matawalu, 10. Enele Tikotani, 11. Aporosa Taulawaki, 12. Seru Vluarika, 13. Cyril Reece, 14. Nacanieli Narequva, 15. Peceli Nacebe. Reserves: 16. Ratunaisa Navuma, 17. Timoci Sauvoli, 18. Jone Koroiduadua, 19. Epeli Radaniva, 20. Jone Navori, 21. Rusiate Nasova, 22. Caleb Muntz, 23. Jiuta Wainiqolo.
QUEENSLAND COUNTRY VS NSW COUNTRY
It's the battle that epitomises Rural Aid round - the clash between Queensland and NSW country sides as the boys from the bush clash in a bid to seal their finals spots and claim domestic country rugby dominance.
And the fact that vital funds are being raised for farmers and their families in drought-stricken areas is a bonus.
Queensland Country centre Dan Boardman, a Lennox Heads product now playing north of the border, said the Rural Aid round was an "awesome cause".
"Everyone knows that there's been really bad drought out west and we'll be fundraising down here and also at other games over the weekend and whatever we raise at all games, Rugby Australia will match that and that will go to drought relief, so it'd be awesome if everyone could put their hands in their pockets and give a small amount of money because it will go to a great cause."
While the NSW Country Eagles sit in second place on the ladder after knocking off competition leaders the Western Force at Port Macquarie last week, Boardman said Queensland Country were confident of matching them.
"Four wins (will be needed to get into the finals), so we need to win our last two and I think we're very confident. we're slowly getting a bit of momentum and everyone's really working well together, so hopefully this weekend we turn up ready to play and then next week in Fiji.
"It's definitely going to be an extremely tough match and I can't wait really."
Qld Country to face Eagles: 1. Harry Hoopert, 2. Bronson Fotuali'i, 3. Gavin Luka, 4. Angus Blyth, 5. Harry Hockings, 6. Angus Scott-Young, 7. Connor Pritchard, 8. Harry Wilson, 9. Tate McDermott, 10. Rohan Saifoloi, 11. Joey Fittock, 12. Hamish Stewart, 13. Dan Boardman, 14. Filipo Daugunu, 15. Jock Campbell. Reserves: 16. Matt Faessler, 17. George Francis, 18. Jethro Felemi, 19. Jeremiah Lynch, 20. Dillon Wihongi, 21. Liam Dillon, 22. Patrick James, 23. Tom Lucas.
Eagles to face Qld Country (from): Tom Robertson, Tom Horton, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Nathan Den Hoedt, Tom Staniforth, Ned Hanigan, Maclean Jones, Nick Champion de Crespigny, Jake Gordon, Mack Mason, James Kane, Ofa Manuofetoa, Joey Walton, James Turner, Tim Clements, Andrew Tuala, Angus Bell, Chris Talakai, Connor-James Vest, Will Harris, Jack Grant, Connor O'Shea, Ben Wollett.
WESTERN FORCE VS BRISBANE CITY
Experienced prop Ruan Smith returns to the Brisbane side after a two-week layoff as City head west looking to upset the competition leading Force to stay in the finals hunt.
City sat in second place on the competition ladder heading into Round 5 but a 42-26 loss to Country in the Queensland derby pushed them down to fourth, needing to win their remaining two fixtures to ensure a semi-final spot.
Queensland Reds duo Sean Farrell and Bryce Hegarty have also been selected to make their City starting debuts, while Dave Feao, Sam Wallis, Isaac Henry and Hunter Paisami round out the new additions to the starting side after the derby loss in Gladstone last week.
Coach Jim McKay knows the challenge his side faces, especially after NSW Country inflicted the Force's first loss this season last week.
But he said it was a "great opportunity to measure ourselves against a strong side".
“As far as we’re concerned, every game we have fronted up and the attitude and energy from the team has been superb, however we understand that we let ourselves down in the first-half against Queensland Country," McKay said.
“We’ve got no excuses and we take ownership of that, so there’d be nothing better than getting back on track in Perth this weekend.
"We’re going over there to give it everything we’ve got and we’re looking forward to representing Brisbane City. In the context of the season, it’s very, very close now so it’s an important game as far as the standings go.
“We have to focus on ourselves and putting the record straight from last week because that was uncharacteristic from us after what we’ve shown this season so far."
Force to face City: 1. Harrison Lloyd, 2. Heath Tessmann, 3. Tom Sheminant, 4. Fergus Lee-Warner, 5. Jeremy Thrush, 6. Henry Stowers, 7. Carlo Tizzano, 8. Brynard Stander, 9. Ian Prior (c), 10. TBC, 11, Jonah Placid, 12. Nick Jooste, 13. Pama Fou, 14. Byron Ralston, 15. Jack McGregor. Reserves: 16. Alifeleti Kaitu'u, 17. Cameron Orr, 18. Dominic Hardman, 19. Johan Bardoul, 20. Tevin Ferris, 21. Issak Fines, 22. Jake Strachan, 23. Leon Feke. .
City to face Force: 1. Dave Feao, 2. Sean Farrell, 3. Ruan Smith, 4. Rob Puliuvea, 5. Adam Korczyk, 6. Sam Wallis, 7. Fraser McReight, 8. Seru Uru, 9. Nick Chapman, 10. Isaac Lucas, 11. Jordan Luke, 12. Isaac Luke, 13. Hunter Paisami, 14. Sefa Naivalu, 15. Bryce Hegarty. Reserves: 16. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17. Dane Zander, 18. Josh Nasser, 19. Ryan Smith, 20. Connor Anderson, 21. Moses Sorovi, 22. Teti Tela, 23. Maalonga Konelio.