NRC Squad Announcement: Melbourne Rising
Photo: Stuart Walmsley
Although it is likely to be buried amongst the avalanche of interest surrounding the Sydney club rugby grand finals – in New South Wales at least, the fifth season of the National Rugby Championship (NRC) gets underway this Saturday. Eight teams will take part in 2018, and we’ve already taken a peek at how the line-ups are looking for Brisbane City, Queensland Country, the Western Force and the Canberra Vikings, so it’s time to turn our attention to Melbourne Rising.
After reaching the finals in the first three years of the fledgling competition only to fall one game shy of the big dance on each occasion, Rising struggled last time out with an inexperienced squad that registered just one win in eight games to leave them at the bottom of the ladder.
New head coach Eion Toolan has named a mixture of youth and experience in his 33-man squad for this campaign, with several stars from the local Dewar Shield getting their chance to shine alongside a host of Melbourne Rebels.
“There’s been a lot of preparation to this point assembling the team,” he explains. “There are a couple of really exciting players to come out of Dewar Shield this year. Obviously Melbourne Unicorns had an exceptional year and were undoubtedly the best team in the competition, so for Sakaria Noa and George Noa to make the 33 is probably a fair reflection on how the team performed.
“Both those two guys really stood out individually for that team, so I’m really excited to see those two brothers.”
Another young starlet to take their NRC bow is Kemu Valetini, younger brother of Brumbies backrower Rob. He did enough for his side Harlequins in last weekend’s Dewar Shield cup final loss to the Unicorns, to get on the radar of Toolan and his coaching team.
“Obviously, his brother Rob has gone on to do good things in the professional environment up in Canberra, and Kemu has the potential, in the right environment, to progress further in his career,” explained Toolan.
“I think he’s shown really classy touches in the games that I’ve seen him play, and I think when he’s surrounded by some strong players he’s really going to shine.”
On the right side of the ledger in the cup final was Unicorns flyer Sione Tui. His Man of the Match performance, including a scintillating long range try, was also enough to convince Toolan that he may just have what it takes to go to the next level, and even beyond.
“Sione Tui showed his potential in that final when he scored that try. He told me it was from 90m, but it was probably closer to 70m,” laughs the coach. “But I think he’s got exceptional pace coupled with some impressive evasive skills. He’s a really exciting player with a bright future.”
But if the burgeoning local talent want to make their mark in the Rising jersey in 2018, they will have to force their way past a host of established names. Anaru Rangi, Laurie Weeks, Jermaine Ainsley, Matt Philip, Angus Cottrell – who will skipper the side, Richard Hardwick, Michael Ruru, Sione Tuipulotu, Billy Meakes, Tom English, Sefa Naivalu and new Rebels recruit Isi Naisarani amongst others, mean this squad is one of the most experienced in terms of Super Rugby caps.
And if you’re looking for a few familiar names from the Intrust Super Shute Shield to have a breakout competition, look no further than powerful Eastwood winger Fabian Goodall, who racked up 10 tries for the Woodies as they reached the finals. Northern Suburbs flyer Angelo Leaupepe, West Harbour centre – and former Rising player – Justin Marsters, and Eastern Suburbs flyhalf/fullback Archie King, are also in with a chance of grasping an opportunity to shine if selected.
Rising start their campaign this Saturday with a trip to Fiji, to take on a powerful-looking Fijian Drua side that enjoyed a stellar first season in the competition in 2017. They continue their travels in round two with a visit to Townsville to take on Queensland Country, followed by a third straight away fixture against NSW Country Eagles in Mudgee, before their first home match against Brisbane City at AA Bailey Reserve.
The desire to vastly improve on last year’s disappointment is a given. But for coach Toolan, it’s very much a case of crossing each hurdle as they come.
“I think it’s a game by game focus really,” he says. “It’s an environment where we are trying to develop the individual, so going into this campaign it’s all about technically making our players better.
Through that, hopefully we will see that transfer to a team scenario where our players improve week on week, which will lead to team results. For now, we can’t look past Fiji in Round One.”
Video courtesy of Rugby AU
MELBOURNE RISING 2018 SQUAD
FORWARDS: Fereti Sa’aga; Tom Moloney; Mees Erasmus; Anaru Rangi; Andrew Tuala; Feta Luamanu; Laurie Weeks; Pone Fa’amausili; Jermaine Ainsley; Trevor Hosea; Esei Haangana; Matt Philip; Sakaria Noa; Angus Cottrell (c); Richard Hardwick; Ikapote Tupai; George Noa; Rob Leota; Isi Naisarani
BACKS: Michael Ruru; Harrison Goddard; Archie King; Jack Maddocks; Angelo Leaupepe; Sione Tui; Sione Tuipulotu; Billy Meakes; Fabian Goodall; Tom English; Kiti Ratu; Sefa Naivalu; Justin Marsters; Kemu Valetini