The key games to decide the NRC semis

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert


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    This time last year, seven rounds of the National Rugby Championship decided the top four and we were already deep in to the finals series.

    This year, the addition of the Fijian Drua means that we still have two rounds to go yet, and there’s some crucial games to come that will have a huge impact on who takes part in the finals.

    Fiji v Queensland Country, this Saturday
    This will be the game that decides whether either side has a true shot at a top two finish, or not. Country have a four-point advantage currently, and a much better points differential, too, and so a losing bonus point could actually be enough to maintain a foothold in the top two.

    If Country win this, I think they’ll control their top two destiny going forward. If Fiji win – and particularly if they can prevent Country taking a losing bonus point – then they have a real chance to take maximum points the following week against the Rays.

    For Fiji, the key this weekend is going to be whether they can crack the Queenslanders’ defence, and whether they can maintain a game-pace that Country can’t keep up with. For Country, it will be whether they can maintain their defensive shape for the eighty minutes, and whether they can do it without one or both of Izaia Perese and Duncan Paia’aua, both currently in the Wallabies camp in Brisbane.

    NSW Country v Brisbane City, next Saturday
    The first thing I need to state here is that this game becomes moot if the Eagles can’t beat Melbourne this coming Sunday. I think they will, and that is the underlying assumption here.

    NRC rugby - Australia's rugby future

    The Eagles need to win both their remaining games to get to five wins and the maximum 23 points available to them. Even then, they will almost certainly need Perth to drop one of their remaining games. I’ll be honest, I think they’re up against it, but if the balls fall their way, this game in Orange could have a huge bearing on fourth spot.

    Knowing the defence is going to be what wins games at the pointy end of the season – and learning from what Perth did against then in last year’s Final – NSW Country have been trying to slow teams down in the last two weeks, exemplified no better than what they did to Perth in Tamworth last weekend.

    What will work in their favour will be that Brisbane City won’t be anywhere near as strong as it was last weekend against Melbourne. Quade Cooper and Andrew Ready will be out on Barbarians duty, and Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, Lukhan Tui, and maybe even Adam Korczyk could be pulling on Wallabies jerseys in Sydney.

    Country will miss rampaging no.8 Sam Ward, also on Barbarians duty, but Wallabies prop Tom Robertson less so, given they’ve only had him once or twice this season. The Eagles will have better continuity of personnel, and have to use that to their advantage.

    And if they can, then they just might scrape into the semi, and from there they could do anything.

    Queensland Country v Perth, next Sunday
    The final regular season game of the 2017 NRC could count for nothing, yet it could also count for bloody everything. Results in Round 8 this weekend will determine that, of course, but it looms as a really big game for both sides either way.

    As with NSW Country-Brisbane City above, this will the game most affected by the Wallabies-Barbarians match. Spirit coach Kevin Foote confirmed to me this week that he’ll be without upwards of 13 players for the Wallabies game, but will also lose more players to the Classic Wallabies game in Lismore next Tuesday.

    So not only will he be down on strike power, he’ll be going into the game with a really disrupted preparation. To his great credit, he’s known it was coming for some time, and he’s kept his extended training squad going throughout the NRC with this very game in mind. It’s entirely likely that the Perth XV that runs out in Round 9 will bear no resemblance to that from Round 8.

    Queensland Country will lose upwards of six or seven players as well, so already, this match looks badly compromised. And I haven’t even started talking scenarios yet.

    Country may not need to win this game to qualify for the semis, but Perth definitely will. Country probably will have to win to finish in the top two, but Perth are battling with Brisbane City and NSW Country just to be in the mix.

    James Tuttle Queensland Country NRC

    (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    Queensland Country could yet finish first overall with two wins, with a maximum 34 points available, but two losses could mean they miss the top four completely. For Perth to finish with their maximum 26 points, Queensland Country could only finish with a maximum of 30, and the Spirit would still need NSW Country to beat Brisbane City.

    I’ll just say it again: this game could count for nothing, yet it could also count for bloody everything.

    Round 8
    1pm AEDT/2pm local – Fijian Drua v Queensland Country; Churchill Park, Lautoka, Fiji – LIVE on Fox Sports 501
    3pm AEDT/2pm local – Brisbane City v Greater Sydney Rams; Ballymore Oval, Brisbane – Live streamed
    5pm AEDT/2pm local – Perth Spirit v Sydney Rays; McGillivray Oval, Perth – Live streamed

    2.30pm AEDT – Melbourne Rising v NSW Country Eagles; Harlequin Oval, Melbourne – LIVE on Fox Sports 501

    Canberra Vikings have the bye.

    [BOLD] NRC ladder:
    Canberra 25, Queensland Country 24, Fiji 20, Brisbane City 18;
    Perth 16, NSW Country 13, Greater Sydney 9, Sydney 5, Melbourne 4.

    [BOLD] TIPS:
    Three from four again last week, but I’m claiming NSW Country as a moral victory after saying, “I am absolutely certain there will be at least one upset somewhere.”

    Three of the four games look pretty obvious this week, which is always concerning. Brisbane City, Perth, and NSW Country should all win pretty well, I think.

    The genuine 50-50 pick is Fiji-Queensland Country. Fiji are unbeaten at home and will be rested after the bye. Queensland Country have the best defence in the competition. And I reckon that’s where games are won and lost at this time of season, so I’ll go with Country, but with not a lot of confidence.

    It’s a big weekend for the comp and a huge Saturday, so enjoy your NRC rugby this weekend.

    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 (80)

    • October 19th 2017 @ 6:56am
      pillga said | October 19th 2017 @ 6:56am | ! Report

      Wow is this competition still going I am sure if this weekend was the so important some of my Rugby mates may have mentioned it but not a word .Sorry this is just another rugby enterprise that Bill Pulver has skillfully disenfranchised and disconnected every rugby supporter from he has a skill like no other failed businessman I know of.
      Surely there is a calling for him when he leaves the ARU from someone who wants to turn a big business into a totally unrecognizable small one

      • October 19th 2017 @ 8:43am
        Boris said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        Wrong mate. The comp is pretty new and bridges the gap between super rugby and club rugby. It’s on the improve and as Jamie comments below the Fox ratings are on the way up. If you gave the NRC a fair go you’d see that it’s a quality competition and great to watch.

        • October 19th 2017 @ 8:58am
          Jamie said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

          Love the NRC!!!!

      • Roar Guru

        October 19th 2017 @ 8:59am
        John R said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

        So your rugby mates were big fans of the NRC and then they got put off it when Bill Pulver came in?

        That’s what you mean by “another rugby enterprise that Bill Pulver has skillfully disenfranchised and disconnected every rugby supporter from” ?

        • Roar Rookie

          October 19th 2017 @ 9:06am
          Paul D said | October 19th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

          Pretty amusing given that Pulver created the NRC….

          • Roar Guru

            October 19th 2017 @ 9:12am
            John R said | October 19th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

            Precisely. Wonder if old mate Pillga is aware of that..

      • October 19th 2017 @ 10:01am
        TC said | October 19th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

        Hasn’t done too well at the ARU, obviously, but maybe google him to see what a ‘failure’ as a businessman he is. I think the lesson here is, sports administration is much harder than a lot business people think,

      • October 19th 2017 @ 10:01am
        TC said | October 19th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

        Hasn’t done too well at the ARU, obviously, but maybe google him to see what a ‘failure’ as a businessman he is. I think the lesson here is, sports administration is much harder than a lot business people think,

        • Roar Guru

          October 19th 2017 @ 10:08am
          John R said | October 19th 2017 @ 10:08am | ! Report

          Particularly when any changes you’d like to make need to be agreed to by 2 partners, both of whom have their own priorities and prerogatives

    • October 19th 2017 @ 7:21am
      Jamie said | October 19th 2017 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Hi Bret

      One again we have an “under strength” side playing in Fiji. I doubt that Peters or Paia’aua will play for the wallabies this Saturday. Definitely not both. Really looking forward to this one! Also di you catch the tweet by fox stating that round 7 had atracted 150k viewer across 4 games? From all platforms though. Good numbers I say

      • Columnist

        October 19th 2017 @ 8:28am
        Brett McKay said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

        And Qld Country aren’t heading to Fiji until tomorrow Jamie, so it’s possible either or both of Perese and Paia’aua could still make the trip.

        I hadn’t seen the tweet but have now. It appears to be just for the TV games, too, which is very encouraging. Those sort of numbers might lead to more games on TV and less streamed…

        • Roar Guru

          October 19th 2017 @ 8:48am
          Train Without A Station said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

          A 2Pm to 6PM or 3PM to 7PM double header would be great.

          • October 19th 2017 @ 10:59am
            Hello said | October 19th 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

            I agree was.
            Go QLD Country 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        October 19th 2017 @ 8:36am
        John R said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

        I missed that, promising numbers for sure!

      • Roar Guru

        October 19th 2017 @ 8:47am
        Train Without A Station said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Jamie I read that too. I think you have it slightly mixed up.

        It was for just the 2 televised games, but it’s assumed that 150k was the combined peaks.

        But don’t ask me what’s the difference between the peak audience and what’s reported!

        Regardless, if that’s the highest peak audience, on the same metric, support is growing. 75k reported audiences would see the NRC become a viable alternative to Super Rugby in our market.

        • October 19th 2017 @ 9:57am
          Jamie said | October 19th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          Hi TWAS

          Yes the tweet was a bit confusing but as you say positives regardless. This is the first time they have made such post. I love the fact that we have have rugby content for a solid period throughout the year. Brisbane tens, club, sevens, SR, NRC and international season.

          • Roar Guru

            October 19th 2017 @ 10:14am
            Train Without A Station said | October 19th 2017 @ 10:14am | ! Report

            I’m not certain if a peak average of 75k in 2 games is better than getting 150k aggregate average across the 4. i.e. Would the 150k across all games have been better than what it actually was.

            But yes. Most important is that it’s growing.

            I think 2 telecast games has helped, and if all 4 are telecast it will only grow a little more.

            If the audiences get up to 100k for the games it will start to have FTA interest. It could be a potential product for CH10 given they have no major sport at this time, and come October there is no competition from AFL and NRL.

            CH7 and CH9 could also have interest, but juggling in September with the more popular AFL and NRL finals would be less appealing.

            But getting audiences up to 100k is still a long way to go.

      • Columnist

        October 19th 2017 @ 2:45pm
        Brett McKay said | October 19th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

        I’ve re-read that tweet, and I reckon the 150K figure is cumulative audience across all instances of the TV games – that is, watching the live, plus anyone who IQ’d it, plus anyone who watched any replays of those games (maybe even anyone who watched the TV games thru the app, or online, as well).

        If you see the daily ratings figure for both Saturday and Sunday, you can see that neither game made the top 20 pay-TV programs for the day, which I think only Finals and maybe semi-finals have in the past anyway. It also means the live games still aren’t drawing around 40K viewers at the time (which is the general mark for the top 20 PTV shows)…

        • October 19th 2017 @ 3:44pm
          Jamie said | October 19th 2017 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

          I think you are right, it is starting to build though

    • Roar Guru

      October 19th 2017 @ 8:31am
      Machooka said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      Thanks Brett… we’re now at the pointy end of the NRC, so lots to play for.

      Hey, I’ve stopped ‘thinking’… I now find it helps when trying to pick a winner. That’s any winner of any and all NRC games.

      If one thinks, then one is… so as I’m not, I don’t exist. This saves on the disappointment albeit shock and horror of continual picking an eventual loser. 😉

      • Columnist

        October 19th 2017 @ 2:47pm
        Brett McKay said | October 19th 2017 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

        So you can’t pick a favourite either, Chookman!

    • October 19th 2017 @ 9:02am
      Jamie said | October 19th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Indeed, although I really enjoy being able to stream games whilst the wife catches up on her shows 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        October 19th 2017 @ 9:14am
        John R said | October 19th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        Foxtel Go (or play or whatever it’s called) will be free for ya to stream through Chrome mate. Everyone’s a winner!

        • Columnist

          October 19th 2017 @ 2:48pm
          Brett McKay said | October 19th 2017 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

          I bought a Chromecast thingy before last season, and I tell you, best $47 I ever spent!

    • Roar Rookie

      October 19th 2017 @ 11:45am
      Dwards said | October 19th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

      Despite the lack of games on TV, the live steam option is great. So as much as I’d like to see more NRC on TV, I hope the streaming option stays. Being able to watch the game when I get a chance is very handy.

      The disconnect from the public is the only disappointment.
      I live in Queensland Country – now if only I could get to a Queensland country game!
      Pretty difficult in this giant state though.

      • Columnist

        October 19th 2017 @ 2:48pm
        Brett McKay said | October 19th 2017 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

        To be fair, Dwards, there is a fair bit of Queensland country to cover!

        • Roar Rookie

          October 19th 2017 @ 3:50pm
          Dwards said | October 19th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

          You’re right there. Don’t take it as a whinge, living in essentially south east Queensland and still being 4 hours drive from Brisbane I’m aware of the problem.
          But the live stream stuff is fantastic, and the addition of a chromecast sorts you out perfectly.
          I think its a good compromise whilst the presence of the competition grows.

          • Columnist

            October 19th 2017 @ 4:44pm
            Brett McKay said | October 19th 2017 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

            Absolutely, well said.

          • Roar Guru

            October 19th 2017 @ 5:05pm
            Train Without A Station said | October 19th 2017 @ 5:05pm | ! Report

            Yeah Dwards you are in the unfortunate position where your proximity to the SEQ population base means the closest game you would get is Noosa – 3 hours away still.

            • Roar Rookie

              October 20th 2017 @ 12:10am
              Dwards said | October 20th 2017 @ 12:10am | ! Report

              But still better than living in Brizvegas.?

    • October 19th 2017 @ 11:54am
      Harry said | October 19th 2017 @ 11:54am | ! Report

      Thanks Brett and a real shame that higher representative commitments are devaluing the NRC sides for these last two rounds. Some of these NRC sides at full stgrength are very impressive.