Drua on title pace but Qld Country a NRC thorn

THE Fijian Drua have taken the high ground as the NRC heads for Round Five but if you’re looking for a smokey in 2017 go no further than perennial under achievers Queensland Country.

The Drua’s 41-5 win over last season’s champions the Perth Spirit in Fiji says a lot about the way the new kids on the block are going but for those who were at Pittwater Rugby Park on Sunday then Brad Thorn’s team showed lots of promise.

Country put eight ties on the Sydney Rays and were dominant for all but the first 20 minutes of this encounter.

Their back row of Caleb Timu, Liam Wright and Tai Ford revelled in the fast deck at Warriewood on Sydney’s northern beaches and the robust centre pairing of Duncan Paia’aua and Chris Feauai-Sautia just kept getting over the advantage line.

They were helped by some connectivity issues in the way that the Rays defended at times but Country have numerous match winners in their squad.

The Rays though were certainly no pushover and will contend as this competition matures but the experience that many of this Country side has at Super Rugby level told in a lot of the contacts areas.

James Tuttle continues to be a major asset not only with his play at the base of the scrum but his goal kicking average must be well in the 80 percent region.

Skipper Paia’aua tried to talk down their title aspirations after the game but as he said they are not here just to make up the numbers.

Thorn’s direct style of coaching is showing through in this group and they look like they can go for 80 minutes and beyond even at this early stage of the year.

The NRC ladder is at this stage as tight as I have seen in the four years that this competition has been run and won.

Every team has had atleast one win and the next round – played out over the October Long Weekend – will separate the contenders from those making up the numbers.

The early parts of this year’s NRC has seen teams play with a lot more pragmatism and it must be said the quality of the rugby is a jump in class from previous years.

In the previous three seasons of NRC it could be said that style took hold in the early parts of the season and evolved as we got closer to the finals.

Now it seems that every game is contested fiercely and it will be interesting to see how things evolve the closer we get to finals.

At this stage there is not one team that cannot make the playoffs and that is a good thing don’t you think.

THE RESULTS (Round Four)

Saturday September 23

NSW Country Eagles 25

Tries: Ward, Gibbon, Newsome
Cons: Adams 2/3
Pens: Adams 2/2

Canberra Vikings 24
Tries: Fainga’aa (2), Robinson
Cons: Hawera 3/3
Pens: Hawera 1/1

Fijian Drua  41
Tries: J. Stewart 2, F. Lomani, A. Waqatabu, P. Raidre, F. Seru
Cons: A. Waqatabu 4/6
Pens: A. Waqatabu 1/1

Perth Spirit 5
Try: I. Naisarani

Sunday September 24
Sydney Rays 24
Tries: P. Balekana, D. Fitzpatrick, D. Lolohea
Cons: R. Saifoloi 3/3
Pens: R. Saifoloi 1/1

Queensland Country 50
Tries: D. Paia’aua 3, F. Daugunu 2, J. Tuttle, C. Feauai-Sautia, H. Stewart
Cons: J. Tuttle 4/6, S. Malolua 1/2

Melbourne Rising 41
Tries: S. Tupou 2, K. Ratu 2, S. Tuipulotu, H. Goddard
Cons: J. McGregor 3/4, H. Goddard 1/2
Pens: J. McGregor 1/1
Greater Sydney Rams 31

Tries: T. Naiyaravoro 2, H. Roach, K. Ale, W. Wessels
Cons: J. Ayoub 2/3, M. Mason 0/1, C. Bailey 1/1