It's finals time in the NRC, with just four teams remaining in the hunt for the 2019 title after seven rounds of fixtures.
Perth and Canberra will host knockout semi-finals this weekend after the Western Force and Canberra Vikings finished on top of the competition ladder, with the Fijian Drua and Brisbane City also making the top four following last week's thrilling finish to the regular season.
The Western Force take on Brisbane City in Perth after sealing the minor premiership, while City scraped into the four after an incredible defensive effort allowed them to hang on against a fast-finishing Melbourne side.
Canberra sealed hosting rights in the second semi-final after beating NSW Country last week, knocking the Eagles out of the top four.
And the Fijian Drua earnt the chance to defend their title with an amazing escape against Queensland Country in their clash in Sigatoka.
Action kicks off in Perth at 3pm (AEDT) on Saturday when the Force host Brisbane, with the Vikings taking on the Drua in Canberra on Sunday at 3pm AEDT.
Winners of both matches advance to the decider, with the highest-placed victor earning the right to host the final.
Both matches will be broadcast LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo, with the Vikings-Drua game also on Fox Sports.
Saturday, October 19
Western Force vs Brisbane City at UWA Sports Park, Perth, 3pm AEDT (12pm local), LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo
Sunday, October 20
Canberra Vikings vs Fijian Drua at Viking Park, Canberra, 3pm AEDT, LIVE on RUGBY.com.au, Kayo and Fox Sports
WESTERN FORCE vs BRISBANE CITY
The Western Force have lost just once this season, to NSW Country at Port Macquarie in an otherwise flawless effort.
They have been pushed though - beating Queensland Country by just one point after an enormous second-half comeback in the opening round in Perth, and hanging on against a fast-finishing Brisbane side at home in round six.
City's campaign has built nicely this season and they will head west full of confidence after an outstanding defensive effort against Melbourne last week.
But they are without talismanic captain Fraser McReight, one of the best pilferers in the competition, who is out for the remainder of the NRC season after a minor surgical procedure, and will need to be at their absolute best to cause the Force headaches at home.
Sam Wallis starts in his place at no.7, as he did last week, with coach Jim McKay making just one change to the starting team that beat the Rising, with front-rower Dave Feao coming back into the starting XV and Junior Wallaby Rhys van Nek dropping back to the bench.
Versatile back Lawson Creighton has been added to the bench, while the final bench spot is still being debated.
McKay said the players selected had been rewarded for their consistency throughout the NRC campaign.
"We’ve developed combinations and cohesion in the past few weeks," he said.
"The Force have finished top of the ladder for good reason. They’ve played consistently well and are a great side.
"For us, we’ve grown and stayed in the fight every game, especially after last week’s defensive display.
"It’s a good achievement to get to the finals, but now we’re here it’s about making the most of our opportunity and playing as well as we can.
"We’re representing Brisbane City and the whole of Queensland and we can’t wait to get over there and give it all we’ve got."
The Force lost captain Ian Prior a fortnight ago to a broken wrist but lose little with Issak Fines coming in at no.9, his combination with flyhalf Andrew Deegan cemented during the Rapid Rugby season when the pair forged a strong combination.
No.8 Brynard Stander has also failed to recover from a knee injury, although coach Tim Sampson is hopeful of having the South African for the final if the Force advance.
In a boost for the Force though, centre Nick Jooste returns after recovering from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the final fixture rounds, while prop Dom Hardman and hooker Andrew Ready return to the squad on the bench.
Sampson said his team was looking forward to playing semi-final football at home and would change little from the style that helped them seal the minor premiership.
"It is an advantage to play at home, we like playing at UWA Sports Park so I think it’s a huge bonus for us for sure," he said.
"Consistency is important for us. The forwards played really well last week so hopefully, they can put in another polished performance upfront.
"Setting a good platform is going to be really important for us this game."
Force to face City: 1. Harrison Lloyd, 2. Heath Tessman, 3. Tom Sheminant, 4. Fergus Lee-Warner, 5. Jeremy Thrush, 6. Henry Stowers, 7. Carlo Tizzano, 8. Tevin Ferris, 9. Issak Fines, 10. Andrew Deegan, 11. Jonah Placid, 12. Nick Jooste, 13. Pama Fou, 14. Byron Ralston, 15. Jack McGregor. Reserves: 16. Andrew Ready, 17. Cameron Orr, 18. Dom Hardman, 19. Ben Grant, 20. Aisake Meo, 21. Rory O’Sullivan, 22. Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 23. Jake Strachan.
City to face Force: 1. Dane Zander, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3. Dave Feao, 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. Teti Tela, 13. Hunter Paisami, 14. Sefa Naivalu, 15. Bryce Hegarty. Reserves: 16. Maile Ngauamo, 17. TBA, 18. Rhys van Nek, 19. Brad Kapa, 20. Connor Anderson, 21. Moses Sorovi, 22. Isaac Henry, 23. Lawson Creighton.
CANBERRA VIKINGS vs FIJIAN DRUA
Former Wallaby Blake Enever will captain the Vikings against the Drua on Sunday, taking on the leadership duties following the withdrawal of hooker Connal McInerney with injury.
The captain's badge has been somewhat of a poisoned chalice at the Vikings in the past month, with Darcy Swain (broken thumb) ruled out after round six before McInerney (knee) picked up an injury last week.
McInerney suffered damage to the medial ligament in his knee in the final play of the game last week and while he has been ruled out of Sunday's clash, he will continue to be monitored and could push for a place in the final if the Vikings win through.
The Drua beat the Vikings in Fiji in the semi-finals last year before going on to take the title but Canberra have an unblemished record at Viking Park this season, including a bonus-point win over the Drua in round five, and will be confident after a consistent season.
Coach Nick Scrivener has made three changes to his starting XV for the match though, with Junior Wallabies Lachlan Lonergan (hooker) and Noah Lolesio (flyhalf) coming into the side, while Tom Wright returns to the right wing.
"He's got some strengths different to Connal which we hope he brings to the fore,"Scrivener said.
"He's been a welcome addition to the team, he's been involved before.Guys love playing in these circumstances - coming in, in a big game at home and playing in a semi is fantastic for him."
Both Wright and the man he replaces, Mack Hansen, have five tries this season, giving the Vikings great potency in their starting side and from the bench.
That bench has been fortified by local talents, hooker Alex Small, and second rower Will Sankey, who come in after injuries to other squad members.
Scrivener wanted to ensure he had the bench to finish the job against the Drua, who have come roaring back into games in recent weeks.
"If you look at Fiji, they average 19-20 points int eh second half every game they play, so that's part of the thinking as well in terms of (our) selection about who you want on the field against a Fiji team who probably use the ball more in the second half when defences are tired," he said.
"There's considerations around who finishes against teams like Fiji as much as who starts."
Vikings to face Drua: 1. Bo Abra, 2. Lachlan Lonergan, 3. Angus Wagner, 4. Nick Frost, 5. Blake Enever (c), 6. Pete Samu, 7. Will Miller, 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Ryan Lonergan, 10. Noah Lolesio, 11. Tom Wright, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Len Ikitau, 14. Toni Pulu, 15. Tom Banks. Reserves: 16. Alex Small, 17. Fred Kaihea, 18. Tom Ross, 19. Will Sankey, 20. Angus Allen, 21. Joe Powell, 22. Bayley Kuenzle, 23. Mack Hansen.
Drua to face Vikings: (From): Joeli Veitayaki, Tevita Ikanivere, Mosese Ducivaki, Tevita Naqali, Epeli Radaniva, Eremasi Radrodro, Ulaisi Lawavou, Johnny Dyer, Seru Vluarika, Caleb Muntz, Jaiuta Wainiqolo, Cyril Reece, Ifereimi Tovilevu, Nacanieli Narequva, Eneli Tikotani, Maikele Sivo, Jone Koroiduadua, Timoci Sauvoli, Rusiate Nasova, Jone Navori, Peni Matawalu, Levani Kurimudu, Aporosa Tabulawaki.