Eddie Jones compared Tonga to Stoke City after England’s victory.
The NRC is now three rounds down. With the short nature of the tournament these first few rounds were always going to be key for finals hopes and certainly a few favourites have emerged.
The usual suspects are looking good again this year with Queensland Country and Canberra Vikings coming away with important wins. The Fiji Drua and Western Force finish off the top four and certainly cannot be counted out.
The weekend began in MacKay where Queensland Country showed the Reds will be a serious threat next year in the Super Rugby. Boosting a star studded backline they tore the Drua to bits in the first half. Hamish Stewart and Jordan Petaia were particularly impressive. The Drua were a lot stronger in the second half but ultimately the gap was too big and Country ran away convincing winners 52-22.
Final score: QLD Country (52) def Fiji Drua (22)
Elsewhere the Melbourne Rising travelled to face NSW Country. The Eagles have a super strong squad on paper but they were again very disappointing. The Rising bounced back from a tight loss in Round 2 and ran rings around the boys from NSW.
Tom English even managed to get over for five tries. The decision to play the NSW club competition final a week after everywhere else is again proving to be a bad one. The Country lads looked like they are short of preparation and will be looking forward to playing fellow strugglers the Sydney Rays on Wednesday.
Meanwhile the Rising will be looking to continue their form and push for a finals spot.
Final Score: Melbourne Rising (62) def NSW Country (7)
The third and final Saturday game saw Brisbane City hammer the Sydney Rays. The City playmakers stood up after a tough game in Fiji. Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt were impressive in leading the City team around the park.
On the other hand the Rays really struggled especially in the first half letting in 42 points. Just like the NSW Country team they did not look cohesive as a team for most of the match and at times were nonexistent in defence. Despite a late flurry of points from the Rays the score line was not pretty.
Final Score: Brisbane City (61) def Sydney Rays (40)
Easily the game of the week. A very good contest which saw the Canberra side get up thanks to a late flurry. The Force side were on top for most of the game in terms of possession and territory but unfortunately were not very dangerous in attack especially in the final third.
The Vikings were able to repel everything and took their opportunities for points extremely well. Jordan Jackson-Hope was a standout and Rob Valentini had a good impact from the bench which was extremely pleasing to see as he looks to mount his comeback from injury.
Final Score: Canberra Vikings (29) def Western Force (19)
Round 3 still has one game to come with the Sydney derby occurring on Wednesday. This game was postponed due to the Shute Shield grand final being held a week later than every other state (a decision which seems to have hurt the NSW based sides).
This game will have little impact on the table and is shaping up to be the battle of the cellar dwellers which is disappointing given the talent in NSW.
QLD Country and Canberra Vikings firm favourites
These two teams who met in Round 1 were very impressive this week, both coming away with victories against strong opposition. The two teams went about there game differently with the Vikings side winning a war of attrition against the Force.
They were happy to defend for long periods of time and this will put them in good stead for later on in the competition. The Country side on the other hand won their game by blowing the Drua side out of the water in the first half.
Home advantage huge
With the exception of the NSW sides who were pretty horrible again this week home advantage has proven to be huge this year in the NRC. The top teams have made their home grounds a fortress and the teams who manage to finish in the top two will be very hard to beat.
The Drua have a huge opportunity to win away from home next week when they meet the Sydney Rays and I would expect the Vikings to also win away from home against the Eagles. These away wins could prove huge in deciding the top two at the end of the season.
Is anyone going to defend?
Defence has been the major issue for the NRC again this year. Round 3 alone has seen 292 points scored.
While the attack has been good some of the defending has been atrocious. For the NRC to have any chance of fulfilling its potential I think the standards of defence need to lift.
The Drua showed what good defence can do in the first two rounds but slipped off the pace this round and the Vikings won their game off the back of defence. In the end the team with the best defence will go along way in winning the NRC for 2018