NRC Season 6 Kick-Off: Squads, Draw, Coaches & Captain’s Previews

Photo: Getty Images

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The sixth season of the National Rugby Championship (NRC) kicks-off today, with eight teams battling it out again for supremacy in the country’s newest domestic competition. Fijian Drua are the holders, having lifted the title in some style last year. But a look across the squads suggests that there are plenty of pretenders to their throne this time around, with a heavy Super Rugby presence balanced nicely with the cream of the crop from clubland.

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FIJIAN DRUA (2018 – Champions)

Their two seasons in the NRC have brought unprecedented success, with a semi-final run in 2017 only usurped by a Minor Premiership a year later, and then a memorable victory over Queensland Country in the final on home soil. Head coach Senirusi Seruvakula returns for a third year to oversee a side captained by Eramasi Radrodro.

“The team is made up of players who were very consistent during the Skipper Cup and Farebrother Challenge,” said Seruvakula. “We have not only picked up players from major unions, but we also picked players from Vodafone Vanua Cup.

“We understand its going to be a tough season as we will be defending the National Rugby Championship title. There will be a lot of learnings for the new players coming into the team.” 

 

Video courtesy of Rugby.com.au

Forwards: Mosese Ducivaki; John Dyer; Tevita Ikanivere; Jone Koroiduadua; Ulaisi Lawavou; Immanuel Naciva; Tevita Naqali; Joseva Nasaroa; Rusiate Nasova; Jone Navori; Ratunaisa Navuma; Necani Nawaqadau; Epeli Radaniva; Eremasi Radrodro (c); Timoci Sauvoli; Maikeli Sivo; Joeli Veitayaki Jnr

Backs: Joseva Kuricuva; Levani Kurumudu; Peni Matawalu; Caleb Muntz; Peceli Nacebe; Nacanieli Narequva; Setareki Raoba; Cyril Reece; Aporosa Tabulawaki; Ifereimi Tovilevu; Samisoni Viriviri; Serupepeli Vularika; Jiuta Wainiqolo; Poasa Waqanibau; Osea Waqa

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QUEENSLAND COUNTRY (2018 – Runners-up)

Having struggled to make any imprint on the competition for the first three years, Queensland Country have flown the flag for the Australian-based sides in the last two years, with an inaugural title in 2017 backed up by a second-placed finish last time out. Head coach Rod Seib is at the helm once more as he goes in search of a second title, with skipper Angus Scott-Young leading out a healthy number of new faces.

“Heading into our first match against the Force, it’s great to have some consistency with our selections from previous years,” said Seib. “All bar one player within our starting XV have previous NRC experience, and the majority of our team have all been core members of the Queensland Country squad over the past few seasons.
 
“We do have a contingent of players who are in line for their first taste of NRC Rugby, and they’ve earned that opportunity through their performances in Queensland Premier Rugby this season. The NRC has been a great breeding ground for talent and we’ve seen a number of our Queensland Country players go on to higher honours, and I’m sure we’ll see more players emerge this season from within our ranks.  
 
“As a team we’re all really looking forward to this first match. We’ve only had a short lead in, but the consistency in terms of players within our squad has allowed us to come together quickly and focus on building upon our team culture and structures from previous years.”

 

Video courtesy of Rugby.com.au

Forwards: Angus Blyth; Will Dearden; Matt Faessler; Jethro Felemi; Harry Hockings; Harry Hoopert; Tom Kibble; Gavin Luka; Jeremiah Lynch; Efi Ma’afu; Alex Mafi; Zac Moi Moi; Carter Ozanne; Angus Scott-Young (c); Bronson Tauakipulu; Dillon Wihongi; Harry Wilson; Liam Wright

Backs: Dan Boardman; Jock Campbell; Connor Chittenden; Filipo Daugunu; Liam Dillon; Chris Feauai-Sautia; Joey Fittock; Carter Gordon; Patrick James; Jonathan Kent; Tom Lucas; Tate McDermott; Rohan Saifoloi; Hamish Stewart; Reuben Wall

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WESTERN FORCE (2018 – Semi-finals)

For much of last year’s campaign, a Western Force side driven by their controversial omission from Super Rugby, looked highly likely to add to their 2016 NRC triumph with another title. But a loss at home in the final round of the regular season to the Fijian Drua left them third, and they duly went down to Queensland Country on the Sunshine Coast in the semi-final. Coming in off the back of a successful Global Rapid Rugby Pacific Showcase Series, they will no doubt be keen to go at least one step further this time out under the guidance of head coach Tim Sampson, and captain Ian Prior.

“This is what the Western Force is about. It’s about having and providing that pathway for national selection by playing through state representative teams,” said Prior. “There is some really exciting talent here, lots of really good players that I think will fit in nicely.”

“It’s really exciting to take on the two Grand Finalists straight off the bat. Obviously, Queensland Country having lost in the semis to them last year, it’s good to get the opportunity to front up against them first. It will be a good measure as to where we are at. We love playing at home in front of our crowd and trying to ‘Fill the Hill’. It’s a tough place to travel and play for away teams, but a really good place for us. Hopefully, we can play some of our best rugby and get the biggest NRC crowds, which we have had in the last few years.”

 

Video courtesy of Rugby.com.au

Forwards: Chris Alcock; Johan Bardoul; Jack Bromely; Ollie Callan; Tevin Ferris; Ben Grant; Dom Hardman; Chris Heiberg; Feleti Kaitu’u; Fergus Lee-Warner; Harrison Lloyd; Aisake Meo; Cameron Orr; Jackson Pugh; Andrew Ready; Tom Sheminant; Brynard Stander; Henry Stowers; Heath Tessmann; Jeremy Thrush; Carlo Tizzano; Markus Vanzati

Backs:AJ Alatimu; Marcel Brache; Andrew Deegan; Leon Feke; Issak Fines; Pama Fou; Nick Jooste; Brad Lacey; Halaufa Lavaka; Grason Makara; Jack McGregor; Rory O’Sullivan; Jonah Placid; Ian Prior (c); Byron Ralston; Kiti Ratu; Jake Strachan; Henry Taefu; Chris Tuatara-Morrison

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CANBERRA VIKINGS (2018 – Semi-finals)

Like the Force, the Vikings were another side who looked more than capable of walking away with the chocolates throughout the 2018 competition, with a squad chock-full of Brumby talent. But a 4th place finish saw them travel to a raucous and parochial Lautoka for the semi-finals, where a suitably buoyed Fijian Drua outfit edged them for a place in the big dance. Head coach Nick Scrivener gets another chance to make it third time lucky for the Canberrans, having already lost in two grand finals, and he has chosen talented young lock Darcy Swain as his on-field general.

“I’m very pleased with the balance of the squad that we have selected, and am looking forward to the competition getting underway,” said Scrivener.

“There’s some very exciting young talent in the group, which should mix well with the players who have had experience of playing in Super Rugby. I’m also extremely excited by the prospect of seeing some of the local club players showing their quality at this level.”

 

Video courtesy of Rugby.com.au

Forwards: Bowen Abra, Angus Allen, Nick Dobson, Blake Enever, Nick Frost, Luke Gersekowski, Jake Helgesen, Fred Kaihea, Lachlan Lonergan, Tp Luteru, Connal McInerney, Will Miller, Tom Ross, Pete Samu, Levi Shaw, Jake Simeon, Darcy Swain (c), Rob Valetini, Angus Wagner

Backs: Tom Banks, Mack Hansen, Len Ikitau, Bayley Kuenzle, Noah Lolesio, Ryan Lonergan, George Morseu, Andrew Muirhead, Joe Powell, Toni Pulu, Andrew Robinson, Irae Simone, Seamus Smith, Tom Wright

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BRISBANE CITY (2018 – 5th)

When the NRC first got underway back in 2014, Brisbane City were the team blazing a trail for everyone else to follow, with back-to-back championships spawning the likes of Samu Kerevi onto the big stage. However, they haven’t made the finals since, and have also been forced to watch on as state rivals Queensland Country overtook them as the Sunshine State’s number one side. Queensland Reds assistant coach Jim McKay has been given the chance to turn around their fortunes in 2019, and he will do so with a third of his squad having no experience at this level. And that faith in young talent has also seen Australian Under 20’s skipper Fraser McReight backed to lead the side around the park.

“Rugby for me is about bringing people together and providing an opportunity,” explained McKay. “This is clear with the majority of the squad coming from Queensland Premier Rugby. We want to invest in each other and I’m excited to get to know new people.

“The NRC is a great pathway for players to develop and also showcase their rugby talents and I can’t wait to see what these guys bring. We want to play in a positive and purposeful style of rugby which inspires others. Our motto this year is all about rolling up your sleeves and going to work.
 
“It’s only a short season. It’s a dash in the grand scheme of things, but the challenge is how we come together now as one team for a common purpose to achieve success together.”

 

Video courtesy of Rugby.com.au

Forwards: Connor Anderson; Sean Farrell; Dave Feao; Brad Kapa; Adam Korczyk; Fraser McReight (c); Josh Nasser; Maile Ngauamo; Brandon Paenga-Amosa; Robert Puliuvea; Ryan Smith; Ruan Smith; Tuaina Tualima; Seru Uru; Rhys Van Nek; Sam Wallis; Michael Wood; Dane Zander

Backs: Nick Chapman; Lawson Creighton; Ilasia Droasese; Bryce Hegarty; Isaac Henry; Phoenix Hunt; Maaloga Konelio; Isaac Lucas; Jordan Luke; Liam McNamara; Sefa Naivalu; Hunter Paisami; Moses Sorovi; Teti Tela; Brad Twidale

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MELBOURNE RISING (2018 – 6th)

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the NRC’s five-year history, is that Melbourne Rising have been unable thus far to mimic the achievements of the other four directly Super Rugby-affiliated teams (Perth Spirit until 2018) by at least reaching a grand final. They threatened to do so in 2014-16, where they fell short at the semi-final stage three times in a row, but have racked up just three wins from 15 starts in the last two editions. A player back in those fledgling years, Pom Simona is now hoping to get his side back into title contention as head coach, and he has awarded Australian Under 20’s star Semisi Tupou the responsibility of captaining a squad with plenty of home-grown talent to help him.

“It’s a credit to all the players who have been selected in the squad,” said Simona. “We felt the direction we wanted to head towards in selecting the squad was choosing the best local talent in Victoria to help supplement the Rebels listed players who’ll be playing in the NRC.

“Having this many local players in the squad is a win for rugby here in Victoria, because it means a host of the Dewar Shield’s best players will be exposed to other players of Super Rugby quality, which can only mean good things for the pathway here in the state. I have full faith that this squad can be competitive and achieve success in this year’s NRC competition.”

 

Video courtesy of Rugby.com.au

Squad: Taylor Acheson; Jermaine Ainsley; Angus Arundel; Will Clift; Angus Cottrell; Vaauli Fa’amausili; Tetera Faulkner; Reece Fuller; Matt Gibbon; Esei Haangana; Richard Hardwick; Ross Haylett-Petty; Trevor Hosea; Rodney Iona; Lloyd Johansson; Boyd Killingworth; Isaiah Leota; Robert Leota; Lolohea Loco; William Lewesi; Justin Marsters; Pat Morrey; Michael Moloney; Delai Moto; Matai Nairavu; George Noa; Noa Noa; Matthew Philip; Harry Potter; Anaru Rangi; Fereti Sa’aga; JP Sauni; James So’oialo; Moli Sooaemalelagi; Theo Strang; Katinali Tai; Joseva Tamani; Ola Tauelangi; Ikapote Tupou; Semisi Tupou (c); Ahmu Tuimalealiifano; Junior Uelese; Nailati Ukalele; Mahe Vailanu

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NSW COUNTRY EAGLES (2018 – 7th)

While the introduction of the NRC competition got off on the wrong foot in New South Wales in hindsight, with the reduction of the original four teams down to three and then two, evidence that the nonetheless substantial talent pool in the state was being needlessly diluted, the one constant has been the NSW Country Eagles. And that consistency paid off with two semi-final appearances, a runners-up finish in 2016, and a win percentage across the board under the tutelage of Darren Coleman that was second only to two-time champions Brisbane City. But things didn’t go according to plan last time out with the Eagles finishing one place off the bottom, and so a new era begins this weekend with successful Sydney University head coach Robert Taylor deservedly getting the chance to test his skills at the next level, after winning back-to-back Sydney Premierships. He’ll have the talents of plenty of familiar faces to call upon, with over a third of his squad made up of Students, and he has put his faith in co-captains and Waratahs Ned Hanigan and Jake Gordon to drive the standards required to oversee a return to finals football.

 

Video courtesy of Rugby.com.au

Forwards: Angus Bell; Aaron Blacklock; Nick Champion De Crespigny; Ned Hanigan (co-captain); Will Harris; Jed Holloway; Tom Horton; Michael Icely; Harry Johnson-Holmes; Maclean Jones; Rob Lagudi; Matt Sandell; Tom Staniforth; Pat Tafa; Chris Talakai; David Vea; Connor Vest

Backs: Tim Clements; James Dargaville; Jake Gordon (co-captain; Jack Grant; James Kane; Mack Mason; Mark Nawaqanitawase; Connor O’Shea; Triston Reilly; Henry Robertson; James Turner; Joey Walton; Ben Woollett

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SYDNEY (2018 – 8th)

The transition from the Sydney Rays to Sydney started to take shape last year, with the side adopting the traditional blue and yellow livery of their city predecessors, whilst still retaining the Rays moniker. Now under the auspices of NSWRU they have reverted to plain old Sydney, with the Rays joining the discarded scrapheap of false dawns alongside the Sydney Stars and Greater/Western Sydney Rams. And it can only be hoped that the change also marks a line in the sand from the side’s previous underachievement. With 13 wins from 39 games, they have the second-lowest winning ratio in the competition’s history, with just under half of those victories achieved in the one season they reached the semi-finals in 2016, under the considerable rugby nous of Simon Cron. In charge for a second year in succession is Waratahs assistant coach Chris Whitaker, who has no choice but to improve on a record of 0-7 last season. He will receive significant help from Eastern Suburbs’ highly-promising young coach Pauli Taumoepeau, who has plenty of NRC experience from his time with the Eagles. Skipper is Waratahs centre Lalakai Foketi.

“How we’ve gone in the past just doesn’t make sense when you look at the players we’ve had,” admits Taumoepeau. “We’ve contacted the players a lot earlier this year, we’ve colluded with the Eagles under one umbrella in terms of selections and training, and we’ve taken a less is more approach to training week-to-week. Hopefully, it pays off.”

Forwards: Charlie Abel; Wayne Borsak; Darcy Breen; Joe Cotton; Ed Craig; Charlie Gamble; Jordan Goddard; Josh Kemeny; Tuitakau Kioa; Ruaridh Mackenzie; Ryan McCauley; Rory O’Connor; Tom Osborne; Christian Poidevin; Harrison Rorke; Hugh Sinclair; Lachlan Swinton; Sam Thomson; Shambeckler Vui

Backs: Jake Abel; Harry Burey; Cam Clark; Tyson Davis; Ben Donaldson; Lalakai Foketi (c); Will Harrison; Ben Marr; Michael McDonald; Tailiki Nadredre; James Ramm; Mitch Short; Trent Winterstein; Richie Woolf

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2019 NRC DRAW (all times are local) 

ROUND 1: 

Saturday 31st August
NSW Country v Sydney, 12.00pm, Apex Oval, Dubbo*
Melbourne Rising v Canberra Vikings, 1.30pm, Box Hill Rugby Club, Melbourne
Brisbane City v Fijian Drua, 3.00pm, GPS Rugby Club, Brisbane
Western Force v Queensland Country, 3.00pm, UWA, Perth

ROUND 2: 

Saturday 7th September
Fijian Drua v Western Force, 3.00pm, ANZ Stadium, Suva
Melbourne Rising v NSW Country, 3.30pm, Bailey Reserve, Adelaide*

Sunday 8th September
Brisbane City v Sydney, 1.00pm, Bond University, Gold Coast
Queensland Country v Canberra Vikings, 3.00pm, Bond University, Gold Coast

ROUND 3: 

Saturday 14th September
Sydney v Queensland Country, 12.00pm, Woollahra Oval, Sydney*
Canberra Vikings v Brisbane City, 2.00pm, Viking Park, Canberra
NSW Country v Fijian Drua, 4.00pm, WIN Stadium, Wollongong

Sunday 15th September
Western Force v Melbourne Rising, 3.00pm, UWA, Perth

ROUND 4: 

Saturday 21st September
Fijian Drua v Sydney, 2.00pm (12pm AEST), Churchill Park, Lautoka*
Western Force v Canberra Vikings, 3.00pm, UWA, Perth

Sunday 22nd September
Melbourne Rising v Queensland Country, 1.00pm, Mars Stadium, Ballarat
Brisbane City v NSW Country, 4.00pm, Ballymore Stadium, Brisbane

ROUND 5: 

Saturday 28th September
Canberra Vikings v Fijian Drua, 12.00pm, Viking Park, Canberra*
Queensland Country v Brisbane City, 4.00pm, Marley Brown Oval, Gladstone

Sunday 29th September
Sydney v Melbourne Rising, 1.00pm, Woollahra Oval, Sydney
NSW Country v Western Force, 3.00pm, Port Macquarie Regional Stadium, Port Macquarie

ROUND 6: 

Saturday 5th October
Canberra Vikings v Sydney, 12.00pm, Viking Park, Canberra*
Melbourne Rising v Fijian Drua, 5.30pm, Casey Fields, Melbourne

Sunday 6th October
Queensland Country v NSW Country, 3.00pm, Bond University, Gold Coast
Western Force v Brisbane City, 3.00pm, UWA, Perth

ROUND 7: 

Friday 11th October
Canberra Vikings v NSW Country, 6.00pm, Viking Park, Canberra

Saturday 12th October
Sydney v Western Force, 12.00pm, Woollahra Oval, Sydney*
Fijian Drua v Queensland Country, 3.00pm, Lawaqa Park, Sigatoka

Saturday 12th October
Brisbane City v Melbourne Rising, 3.00pm, Easts Rugby Club, Brisbane

SEMI-FINALS:

Saturday 19th October
1st v 4th*

Sunday 20th October
2nd v 3rd*

GRAND FINAL:

Saturday 26th October*

*FOX SPORTS Match of the round

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