Five NRC names for your notebook

Brett McKay Columnist

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    We’re two rounds out from the 2016 National Rugby Championship semi-finals, and things are certainly hotting up among the teams in contention for the top four.

    The competition has been wonderful this season, without any shadow of a doubt the closest of the three seasons played to date. The performance of the NSW sides – all three winning on the weekend was a first in the comp’s history – well and truly justifies the decision to shed the fourth side this season, and all have been boosted by stronger playing stocks.

    And like the previous two seasons, once again the talent has shone through. You could quite easily work your way through 1 to 15 and come up with several names for each position. I’m not going to do that today, but here are five names worth remembering for the future.

    Shambeckler Vui – Perth Spirit tighthead prop
    It’s worth remembering this name just because it’s a name you won’t easily forget, but 19-year-old Vui has shown in just over a month at this level that he’s got an enormous future.

    The former Queensland and Australian schoolboy, and Australian and Western Force Under-20s player this season – he’ll still qualify next year as well – came off the bench in Round 1, but has started every game since and acquitted himself very well both at set piece and around the ground.

    The Perth scrum is neither the best or the worst in the NRC this season, but as he’s got used the competition, he’s started having some success in recent weeks. He definitely held his own against Queensland Country a fortnight ago, and then gave NSW Country and Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan more than a few issues this weekend just gone.

    His ball-carrying has been really impressive too, and the stats tell me he’s average nearly three metres with every carry. And he doesn’t mind a bit of clean air, either, as this viral clip of him at the U20s World Champs back in June showed.

    Taniela Tupou is the young tighthead getting the headlines – and he’s going well this season, too, don’t worry – but it certainly can’t hurt having more than one young no.3 on the rise.

    Isireli Naisarani – Brisbane City no.8
    While Wallabies fans lament the lack of big, burly, ball-carrying, wall-smashing no.8s in Australian rugby, the NRC has unearthed a couple this season: Tyrone Viiga from Western Sydney, OJ Noa from Canberra are another couple.

    Isa Naisarani was the big winner from the Queensland Reds answering English Premiership side Bath’s desperate call for help, with Leroy Houston’s short term return to ‘The Rec’ opening the door for the 21-year-old Fijian from the Souths club in Brisbane to carry his strong Premier Rugby form through to the next level. Since moving from blindside to no.8 two games ago, he’s exploded into life.

    After finding the line nine times for Souths this season, Naisarani already has three for City in the NRC and is actually their leading try-scorer currently. And at 195cm and 110kg, there’s plenty of size to go with the mobility.

    Young lock Lukhan Tui’s barnstorming runs early in the competition might have set the trend, because in recent weeks Naisarani has been incredible, carrying the ball in big numbers and averaging 5.5 metres per carry!

    A genuine lineout option, too, there is plenty to like about this guy. And the Force definitely know that, because they locked him in for 2017 before the NRC started.

    Jake Gordon – NSW Country Eagles scrumhalf
    You might already know Jake Gordon’s name, and he has been part of the Waratahs set-up in various capacities for two seasons now. Gordon was more than useful for the Sydney Stars last season in their run to the semis, but this year with the Eagles, he’s gone to a new level again.

    For a scrumhalf, his pass is his ‘craft’, and importantly, Gordon’s pass is good. But what’s really impressed me has been his vision and his ability to spot an opening. And then once he does spot that opening, his acceleration is top-notch.

    But what I really like about his game this season has been his support play. His three tries on the weekend were all products of that, and I’ve always had a thing for scrumhalves who can support line breaks up the middle corridor. Five tries in his last three games suggests Gordon has a bit of a thing for it, too.

    Mack Mason – Queensland Country flyhalf
    They’ve had a rough time of it, the young Queenslanders, but the no.10 in the white headgear has been worth watching. Mason will benefit hugely from training alongside Quade Cooper at the Reds next season, and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if he leapfrogs Jake McIntyre in the pecking order.

    A former understudy of Cooper Cronk at the Melbourne Storm, Mason has a really nice kicking game and strong pass, and has shown great maturity in steering the Country side around this season. Not yet 21, Mason just seems to have time with the ball, a desirable feature in a playmaker.

    His partnership in midfield with Duncan Paia’aua – himself enjoying his best NRC campaign to date – has been really strong, with the big winner there being Izaia Perese, who has superstar written all over him.

    Irae Simone – Sydney Rays centre
    The Shute Shield rookie of the year appears to be one of those players who gets better with every step up in level, not unlike last year’s Rays inside centre Reece Hodge, who just run out onto whatever stage it happens to be and looks comfortable.

    Simone started the season at outside centre, but has moved into 12 in the last few games, and from there the carnage has flowed.

    He scored the two tries that put the Rays back on track against Brisbane City on Sunday, and was prominent in a couple of others, too, including putting flanker Jack Dempsey into space on the stroke of halftime.

    Simone joined Northern Suburbs this season after a couple of years with Souths in the NRL, and his talent has already been recognised by the Waratahs for 2017, with coach Darryl Gibson reportedly a big fan.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (90)

    • September 27th 2016 @ 6:43am
      Dally said | September 27th 2016 @ 6:43am | ! Report

      All look good. Now compare the natural talent and fire they all have to the mediocrity of what Foley, Mumm and Phipps bring to the table. The future looks brighter and it can’t get here quick enough.

    • September 27th 2016 @ 7:38am
      Paul said | September 27th 2016 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      I’m worried Jake Gordon is not going to get the opportunity he deserves while he’s behind Phipps and Lucas. Perhaps a switch to the Brumbies when Cubelli moves on?

      I hope Simone gets some game time in the 12 at the Tahs, though Horwitz has also looked good in the NRC

      • September 27th 2016 @ 7:40am
        Cynical Play said | September 27th 2016 @ 7:40am | ! Report

        How good was Jack Dempsey’s try.. He looks fit and raring to go.

        • September 27th 2016 @ 7:52am
          Paul said | September 27th 2016 @ 7:52am | ! Report

          Absolutely. I’m hoping next year is his moment. He seems to have all the mongrel and speed of Sean McMahon, but the extra height and bulk to really bruise defenders.

          • September 27th 2016 @ 8:38am
            Selector said | September 27th 2016 @ 8:38am | ! Report

            For me he has to at least be the bench HB and get increased game time and by about round 5 overtake Phipps for the starting spot. (Wishful thinking)

            Lucas is solid and has done a service for the team, but I think Gordon is too good to ignore.

            • September 27th 2016 @ 8:40am
              Selector said | September 27th 2016 @ 8:40am | ! Report

              Sorry this comment was suppose to be on Cynical Plays comment.

              While I am on this thread… Dempsey is looking immense. I thought his cameos for the Tahs this season were solid as well! Look forward to him getting a shot next year now that Dennis has moved on

              • September 27th 2016 @ 11:42am
                jameswm said | September 27th 2016 @ 11:42am | ! Report

                He’s got some real toe and aggression. Not as big as many 6s, but big enough. I’m assuming he is a decent 3rd or 4th lineout target.

                The Tahs just need a no.8 next year – hang on, Holloway. I’m happy with Hooper and Dempsey on the side. Don’t know if Dempsey can play no.8, as Hanigan is another good young option for 6.

                I’d be happy with a back 5 of Skelton, Hanigan, Dempsey, Hooper and Holloway, but unlikely with Mumm there. I guess Mumm is better at the lineout than any of them, and whichever of those 5 misses out (Hanigan most likely) will still get good time off the bench, and can push for a start.

          • Roar Guru

            September 27th 2016 @ 11:43am
            Machooka said | September 27th 2016 @ 11:43am | ! Report

            Paul… let’s hope it’s more than a ‘moment’ for Dempsey but I take your point 🙂

      • Columnist

        September 27th 2016 @ 11:13am
        Brett McKay said | September 27th 2016 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Yeah, it’s a reasonable point you make Paul, and I think it’s highly likely one of Lucas or Gordon might need a change of jersey to get the game time they want…

        • September 27th 2016 @ 11:27am
          Rodknee said | September 27th 2016 @ 11:27am | ! Report

          Hi Brett , did you see Rowan Perrys game v Canberra Vikings? Outstandin. Shame no room for 7s in this country, another is Will Miller, both these guys could easily put on 5kg if in a pro set up

          • Columnist

            September 27th 2016 @ 12:03pm
            Brett McKay said | September 27th 2016 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

            Yeah, I did, and I’ve been watching those two for several years now. Miller was excellent for NSW Country for two years, but I think he’s gone to another level again this year – ironically, shining at the Rays among by doing his work while other players get noticed.

            Perry I likened last year as Michael Hooper like, but much hungrier over the ball Really pleased to see him dominating in Sydney this year, and now for the Eagles..

    • September 27th 2016 @ 7:40am
      Cynical Play said | September 27th 2016 @ 7:40am | ! Report


      How good is the NRC. The willingness to play, the flair, the spirit of the play. Young players with skill and dreams… fantastic stuff.

      For me Jack Gordon has been the stand-out. He shows pace from a standing start that gets him through gaps around the scrum and ruck in a manner you don’t often see. He seems to create chances from even deep within his own half this way; his kicking, support play and vision are all top class. He could easily have scored four tries on the weekend but his excellent kick ahead was recovered by a team mate just in front of him, who scored.

      I’d LOVE to see him run on in 2017 SR. I’d LOVE more to see him as a EOYT bolter, but he seems way down the pecking order and I note is the 3rd choice Waratah No 9. I rate him above Matt Lucas.

      • Columnist

        September 27th 2016 @ 11:16am
        Brett McKay said | September 27th 2016 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        Funnily enough, CP, Eagles boss Pete Playford’s been suggesting Gordon as a Spring Tour bolter for a month!

        He’s been a ripper though, hasn’t he. Don’t know if you’ve seen the Fox Sports piece on their website, but their stats hounds have worked out his game on the weekend was the best individual game in the NRC ever…

        • September 27th 2016 @ 4:10pm
          Perthstayer said | September 27th 2016 @ 4:10pm | ! Report

          said it before and I’ll say it again, Brett you will be enshrined in the NRC Hall of Fame in a few years.

          Against the odds the NRC will succeed feeder system people have longed for and will simultaneously improve standards by guys taking back their NRC experience to their clubs.

          So many exciting players names and enthusiam in this thread is testament to this success

      • September 27th 2016 @ 12:54pm
        Akari said | September 27th 2016 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

        Only one question, what is Gordon’s pass like from the base of the scrum/ruck? It’ll be hard to give him a tick if he needs to take a step in order to make a good pass to his receiver.

    • September 27th 2016 @ 8:26am
      Tyrone said | September 27th 2016 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      The problem is with only 5 super rugby teams and the established guys at many franchises doing enough in the coaches mind not to get dropped these players may not get a chance. I hate to say this but so many times when watching my super teams I’m hoping certain players get a 2-3 week injury because I know there are players who should be playing will only get a go if that happens

      • September 27th 2016 @ 9:55am
        Boris said | September 27th 2016 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        Mate I know what you’re saying. The upside of this is it shows in certain positions that our depth is quite good. Without depth our teams will struggle and the NRC is helping consolidate in this area.

      • September 27th 2016 @ 10:27am
        Beagle said | September 27th 2016 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        and yet, according to some people, there is not enough depth in Australian rugby and to improve the Wallabies we need to drop one or two Super Rugby teams.

        I think the quality of the players in the NRC show that we are well set for the future now that we have this extra level of rugby to help develop and showcase players of this quality.

        • September 27th 2016 @ 11:43am
          jameswm said | September 27th 2016 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          We have the players.

          What we don’t have is the development system or the coaches.

    • Roar Guru

      September 27th 2016 @ 8:33am
      RobC said | September 27th 2016 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Thanks Brett. Isi, or Isi not? He IS! He IS!

    • Roar Guru

      September 27th 2016 @ 8:37am
      RobC said | September 27th 2016 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      Tan Tup still miles ahead, of anyone imo

      Vui adds depth to the upcoming Aus power-mobile forwards army

      • September 27th 2016 @ 11:45am
        jameswm said | September 27th 2016 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        Two massive props with a step and ball playing ability.

        Not quite Al Baxter or Bill Young, are they?

        Just hope someone works hard on their basics as well.

        • Roar Guru

          September 27th 2016 @ 11:49am
          RobC said | September 27th 2016 @ 11:49am | ! Report

          gday James. Tan is a v good scrummager. And will get better

          UQs scrum is always good. Lets see what he does out West 🙂

          btw good point about the coaches, that is really important. Top 2 imo

          • Columnist

            September 27th 2016 @ 12:12pm
            Brett McKay said | September 27th 2016 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

            Probably has something to do with UQs forwards coach, Rob! 😉

            • Roar Guru

              September 27th 2016 @ 12:14pm
              RobC said | September 27th 2016 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

              Brett I think so!! Lineouts are good too 😀

              Being an expert writer for the ROAR might be another factor

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