And so it begins. Six months after its announcement, and seven years after the demise of its predecessor, the ARU’s new professional nine-team national rugby competition, the National Rugby Championship, kicks off tonight at the spiritual home of Queensland rugby, Ballymore Oval.
I’m afraid it’s bad news on the live streaming front, however.
My understanding is that Fox Sports only gave agreement to allow non-broadcast matches to be streamed live very late last week.
However all three clubs hosting games this Saturday and Sunday tell me that the short turnaround time and the costs involved mean that getting streams up for this weekend is just not possible.
It’s not brilliant news to start the competition.
NSW Country are working as a high priority on streaming their three remaining home games, while the Canberra Vikings and Melbourne Rising won’t be streaming any home games due to prohibitive cost (Rising also have two home games covered by Fox Sports).
The Reds tell me that all non-Fox Sports Brisbane City and Queensland Country games will be live streamed via www.redsrugby.com.au, while I’ve not yet spoken to the three Sydney sides as yet.
The ARU have confirmed they will have full match replays and highlights up on their ARUTV online channels on the Monday following every round. Check out their YouTube channel or the NRC site over the weekend and Monday.
Regardless, here are the Round 1 match previews, including teams as they’ve been named. With other teams named later today, we’ll post them in the comments section as they come through.
Brisbane City v Sydney Stars
Ballymore Oval, Brisbane, Thursday 21 August 7:30pm AEST
The new competition has to kick off somewhere and all eyes will be on Ballymore, where Brisbane City will host the side that seems to have become everyone’s NRC equivalent of Collingwood or Manly, the Sydney Stars.
Brisbane City were rocked this week by the loss of their named captain, young Reds flanker Curtis Browning, who picked up a Grade 1 AC-joint injury in the Premier Rugby final and will be out of action for four weeks. Reds and Uni of Queensland lock Dave McDuling will lead City in the interim.
The 23-man side features ten Reds squad players, including five with Super Rugby experience. The remainder of the team comprises players from Queensland Premier Rugby, with 2014 finalists University of Queensland and Sunnybank dominating selections.
Reds players Ben Tapuai (ankle – twelve weeks) and Liam Gill (upper body – one week) weren’t considered, due to injuries suffered in Premier Rugby.
With City comprising a large number of UQ and Sunnybank players, coach Nick Stiles has had to get his team up in a pretty short turnaround.
“Eight of these guys played in the Premier Rugby final two days ago, so it’s great to be bringing that sort of confidence and experience into the first round of the NRC,” Stiles said at City’s team announcement this week. “That also comes with its own challenges, but the Super Rugby players within the squad are used to short turnarounds and will provide good leadership around the field.”
The Stars have had a little more time up their sleeve, by virtue of Sydney Uni’s surprise semi-final defeat, and coach Chris Malone has brought a decent side together.
The 23-man squad includes a number of NSW Waratahs, with Jeremy Tilse, and Sydney Stars skipper Patrick McCutcheon in the forwards, as well as Michael Hodge in the backline.
Interspersed throughout the team is also an array of local talent from both Sydney University and subbies’ club Balmain, and some exciting young players who are looking forward to the opportunity to play with and against the best of the club and Super Rugby ranks.
The Stars received a late boost heading into the first game, with Wallabies squad members Paddy Ryan and Peter Betham both released to play NRC, while the Wallabies take on New Zealand in the second Bledisloe.
Brisbane City (1-15): Pettowa Paraka (Reds WTS/Easts), Andrew Ready (Reds EPS/Easts), Sam Talakai (Sydney University), Marco Kotze (GPS), Dave McDuling (C – Reds/University of Queensland), Adam Korczyk (UQ), Michael Gunn (Reds WTS/Easts), Jake Schatz (Reds/Sunnybank), Nick Frisby (Reds/GPS), Jake McIntyre (Reds WTS/Sunnybank), Harry Parker (UQ), Samu Kerevi (Reds/GPS), Toby White (Easts), Chris Kuridrani (Reds EPS/GPS), Brando Va’aulu (Sunnybank).
Reserves: David Feao (Souths), Matt Mafi (Brothers), Phil Kite (Reds WTS/GPS), Bench lock TBC, Brad Wilkin (Easts), Jack Mullins (Easts), James Dalgleish (UQ), Rex Tapuai (Sunnybank).
Sydney Stars (1-15): (All Sydney Uni, unless stated) Jeremy Tilse, Tom Coolican, Paddy Ryan, Andrew Leota (Southern Districts), Ryan Wilson (Balmain), Sam Quinn, Patrick McCutcheon (C), Hugo Dessens, Jake Gordon, Stuart Dunbar, Henry Clunies-Ross, Michael Hodge, Jim Stewart, James Dargaville, Peter Betham.
Reserves: Jack Jones, Aldy King, Tom Robertson, Byron Hodge, Matt Philips, Jock Merriman, Jonathan Fakai, Matt Kenny (Balmain).
TV: Fox Sports 2, 7:30pm AEST.
University of Canberra Vikings v Perth Spirit
Viking Park, Erindale (South Canberra), Saturday 23 August 2:30pm AEST
The Vikings and Spirit will come into the NRC with the same high expectations of success, simply because of their cohabitation with their respective Super Rugby outfits.
Canberra have been boosted by the sudden availability of Wallaby Christian Lealiifano, who should line up in midfield. I thought Robbie Coleman might make reappearance in midfield too, but he looks set to remain in the back three, along with Brumbies teammate Jesse Mogg.
Up front, the Smith twins – Jean-Pierre and Ruan – will pack down at loose and tighthead respectively, while Seilala ‘Lala’ Lam and Mitch Wade will battle it out for the hooking spot. Brumbies players remain throughout the pack, too, with Tom Staniforth, Jordan Smiler, and big Fotu Auelua – who’ll captain the Vikings from No.8 – all ready to rumble.
Canberra’s major backer is an anonymous philanthropist who asked the Vikings to donate the front and back of jersey space to charity. The Vikings yesterday announcing that the Snowy Hydro SouthCare rescue helicopter service and Lifeline Canberra will feature on the playing strip.
Perth are yet to name their side travelling to Canberra this weekend, but former Brumby Zack Holmes has been an early face of the Spirit in launching their jersey and should steer the side around in what will be a familiar settings.
Lock Rory Walton is another returning to the ACT for the Spirit’s opening match. The blond-haired, Canberra-born tight forward was a member of the Brumbies Academy in 2010, and gained a cult following during his first season of Super Rugby with the Western Force last year. This week he was named as among the Spirit’s ‘Standards Group’, alongside Kyle Godwin, Luke Morahan, Ian Prior, Heath Tessmann, and Sam Wykes.
The Spirit line-up is set to feature a healthy mix of local players from Perth’s Premier Grade and Western Force regulars, as the club expands the West’s playing base. Included in this are Western Australia’s four Australian Under-20 stars – Luke Burton (flyhalf), Brad Lacey (wing), Ross Haylett-Petty (No.8) and Harry Scoble (hooker) – who are expected to figure for the Spirit throughout the tournament.
University of Canberra Vikings (1-15): JP Smith (Brumbies/Queanbeyan), Mitch Wade (tba), Ruan Smith (Brumbies/Canberra Easts, Tim Cree (Tuggeranong), Tom Staniforth (Brumbies/Royals), Jordan Smiler (Brumbies/Canberra Easts), Jarrad Butler (Brumbies/Tuggeranong), Fotu Auelua (C – Western Districts), Michael Dowsett (Brumbies/Uni-Norths), Isaac Thompson (Tuggeranong), Robbie Coleman (Brumbies/Queanbeyan), Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies/Tuggeranong), Nigel Ah Wong (tba), Jerome Nuimata (Tuggeranong), Jesse Mogg (Brumbies/Wests).
Reserves: Seilala Lam (tba), Alan Ala’alatoa (Brumbies/Uni-Norths, Les Makin (Queanbeyan), Dave McKern (Wests), Sean Doyle (tba), Edan Campbell-O’Brien (Uni-Norths), Jake Rakic (Tuggeranong), Brendan Taueki (Tuggeranong).
Perth Spirit (1-15): Alec Hepburn (Cottesloe), Heath Tessmann (Nedlands), Oliver Hoskins (Cottesloe), Rory Walton (C) (Wests Scarborough), Brent Murphy (Perth Bayswater), Corey Thomas (UWA), Kane Koteka (Wests Scarborough), Alex Rovira (Associates), Justin Turner (Associates), Zack Holmes (Associates), Nili Fielea (Cottesloe), Luke Burton (UWA), Ammon Matuauto (Associates), Va’a Mailei (Palmyra), Dillyn Leyds (Palmyra)
Reserves: Harry Scoble (UWA), Joe Savage (Palmyra), Chris Heiberg (Perth Bayswater), Kieran Stringer (Cottesloe), Richard Hardwick (UWA), Michael Ruru (Nedlands), Davis Tavita (Nedlands), Daley Harper (Kalamunda).
NSW Country Eagles v Greater Sydney Rams
Coogee Oval (Sydney), Saturday 23 August 3:00pm AEST
NSW Country make their highly anticipated professional rugby debut in the NRC, and they’ll be naming a very strong side later today.
Though it sounds like Super Rugby players Stephen Hoiles, Mitch Chapman, and Josh Mann-Rea will be missing this week, my sources say there will still be upwards of eight players with Super Rugby experience in the starting side.
Cam Treloar, who I reported yesterday is super keen for one last professional hurrah in Australian rugby, is in line to start, along with Tala Grey and Leinster-bound Kane Douglas, who is about as good a bonus pick-up as a new team could get, on his Waratahs form.
In the backs, Matt Carraro, Patty Dellit, and Australia Under-20s flyer Andrew Kellaway are ready to pull on the Country gold. I’m also hearing that both of the Eagles’ Illawarra-based players, Pauli Tuala and Misieli Sinoti, are in line to win bench spots, which is brilliant news.
The big news coming out of the Greater Sydney Rams this week is the return to Australian rugby of former Waratahs lock Steve Mafi. Mafi has spent the previous four seasons with English Premiership club Leicester Tigers. Mafi will join the Western Force next season, and is returning to his Parramatta roots by running around in the NRC with the Rams.
The Rams will also name their side later today, and expect it to be heavily reliant on the Eastwood and Souths teams that met in the Shute Shield grand final last weekend. Something like 20 Rams-aligned players took the field for either side, and it was announced this week that Souths captain and promising young Waratah Jed Hollaway will lead the Rams in the NRC.
Holloway is likely to form a very useful backrow combination with Western Force and former Eastwood flanker Chris Alcock, but I’m hearing that Eastwood skipper Hugh Perrett may not play in Round 1.
Out wide, the Sydney premiership-winning Eastwood midfield of Jai Ayoub, Tom Hill and Michael McDougall are all likely to feature in the matchday 23, while new Waratahs cult hero, giant winger Taqele Naiyaravoro is set to take his place in the side.
The Rams also want it known to their supporters making the journey east – into the ‘country’, they wanted me to point out – that the Coogee Bay Hotel is their official home away from home for the first game. If you’re heading to the game, drop in and say hi.
Teams: neither side has been named at the time of publishing, but we’ll post them as they become known.
Melbourne Rising v North Harbour Rays
AAMI park, Melbourne, Sunday 24 August 2:00pm AEST
My Melbourne sources tell me that there’s not a whole lot of Super Rugby experience in the Melbourne Rising midfield. Wallabies squad member Tom English will most likely stay on the wing, which is where Ewen McKenzie wants him for The Rugby Championship.
Little-known Fijian Sefanaia Naivalu may play 12 or 13 alongside Mitch Inman, and my spies can barely contain their excitement when they talk about him. He was the top point scorer in Melbourne’s Dewar Shield this year with 17 tries, and apparently runs the 100m in 10.50 seconds. Get the ball to him in space!
Nic Stirzaker and Jack Debreczeni is the likely halves combo, with Stirzaker to captain the Rising, and Debreczeni seen as the long-term flyhalf for the Rebels as well. Luke Jones may get a chance to play in the backrow, with Sean McMahon not yet available after returning from the Commonwealth Games.
The North Harbour Rays – reigning ARC Champions, as they like to point out – have named a side which includes five players with Super Rugby experience, including giant lock Greg Peterson, who will captain the Rays after only just joining the side this week. Peterson had been weighing up a number of offers from around the country and overseas, but has elected to play the NRC.
The Rays also have one player with Test experience – reserve back Sam VaeVae, who has played for the Cook Islands, and has had a strong season with Manly.
“We’ve had our challenges with the weather in Sydney and having players overseas with the Waratahs, but it’s good to name a team and aim towards Sunday,” Rays head coach Geoff Townsend said this week. “All our four member clubs have players in the 23-man squad that will travel to Melbourne which is great.”
Melbourne Rising name their side to face North Harbour at 10am AEST this morning.
North Harbour Rays (1-15): Mitch Lewis (Manly), Luke Holmes (VC – Warringah), Nick Fraser (Gordon), Ed Gower (Manly), Greg Peterson (C – Manly), Michael Wells (Northern Suburbs), Harry Bergelin (Manly), Sam Ward (Warringah), Matt Lucas (Manly), Hamish Angus (Warringah), Sireli Tagicakibau (Warringah), Tom Matthews (Gordon), Brian Sefanaia (Manly), Cam Crawford (Northern Suburbs), David Feltscheer (Warringah).
Reserves: Dave Porecki (Manly), Kevin McNamara (Northern Suburbs), bench prop tba, Ryan Melrose (Manly), Kotoni Ale (Manly), Josh Holmes (Warringah), Sam VaeVae (Manly), Michael Adams (Warringah).
Melbourne Rising (1-15): Toby Smith (Melbourne Uni/Melbourne Rebels), Pat Leafa (Box Hill/Melbourne Rebels – Vice Captain), Paul Alo-Emile (Power House/Melbourne Rebels), Sam Jeffries (Melbourne Uni/Melbourne Rebels), Cadeyrn Neville (Foostcray/Melbourne Rebels), Luke Jones (Moorabbin/Melbourne Rebels), Sione Taufa (Harlequin), Lopeti Timani (Footscray/Melbourne Rebels), Nic Stirzaker (Endeavour Hills/Melbourne Rebels – Captain), Jack Debreczeni (Endeavour Hills/Melbourne Rebels), Tom English (Melbourne Uni/Melbourne Rebels), Mitch Inman (Southern Districts/Melbourne Rebels) (Vice Captain), Sefanaia Naivalu (Box Hill), Telusa Veainu (Melbourne/Melbourne Rebels), Jonah Placid (Melbourne Rebels)
Reserves: Tom Sexton (Power House/Melbourne Rebels), Tuiatua Tuia (Moorabbin), Cruze Ah-Nau (Footscray/Melbourne Rebels), OJ Noa (Harlequin), Reuben Rolleston (Endeavour Hills), Ben Meehan (Endeavour Hills/Melbourne Rebels), Lloyd Johansson (Harlequin), Joe Kamana (Moorabbin)
REB Radio will be live streaming audio of Melbourne Rising home games. REB Radio will be hosted by Pete Fairbairn, with special comments from Melbourne University Director of Rugby Jason Jones, and will run from 1:55pm AEST to the full-time siren.
There will be a short intermission at the beginning of halftime, and then North Harbour Rays’ Mark Cashman will join the broadcast to provide a five-minute ‘Rays wrap’ before the second half.
Have the bye in Round 1 but some exciting news out of their camp this week is that their first NRC game, against NSW Country next Saturday at Bond University on the Gold Coast, will be free to attend.
Head to the Reds’ website for more details.
Get out to a game this weekend, and enjoy the first round of the National Rugby Championship.