Melbourne eager to control destiny after disappointing loss
By Henry Jacobs
With three rounds remaining in the 2015 National Rugby Championship (NRC) the Melbourne Rising sit in fourth place on the ladder and are eyeing a finals berth for the second year in a row.
Saturday’s 31-21 defeat to the Perth Spirit was their second loss of the season and first ever away defeat, however the equation is simple – three wins from their final three games will guarantee the Melbourne side a place in the knockout stage, leaving Zane Hilton’s side’s destiny firmly in their own hands.
“The nature of the competition is that most teams are scoring and taking opportunities off other teams mistakes, so from our perspective we’ve just go to continue to minimise those mistakes,“ Hilton said.
“Around finals time you need to be playing good rugby and at the moment we’re not . . . we know we need to be better, that’s just the nature of rugby – you have to be honest with the fact that you are not playing well.
“There is a number of reasons behind that but ultimately there is no excuse because we look at ourselves in that regard, we’re not pointing our finger at anyone else.”
The Rising’s road to the finals is far from easy, it begins on Friday evening when they travel to Viking Park to face the highly fancied competition leading UC Vikings in round seven.
The Canberra based outfit is undefeated in 2015, averaging 52 points a match, and fresh from a 63-37 away demolition of the North Harbour Rays.
“What a challenge for us to get up there and play against those guys [the Vikings], they’re a very good side and have very minimal weaknesses across the park,“ Hilton said.
“Physicality is one of their strengths, with guys like [Jordan] Smiler and Jarrad Butler – it’s really important that we continue to bring the physicality that we need to be able to dominate that game.”
Melbourne then host fellow finals contenders the NSW Country Eagles and Sydney Stars to round out the regular season.
Should the Vikings match and other results not go the Rising’s way both sides have the potential to end their campaign, with the Eagles potentially leapfrogging Melbourne into fourth position.
This would be highly disappointing for the 2014 minor premiers, who were the bookies’ favourites to be a top two finisher this year.
“We’ve been really impressed by Jono Lance at the Eagles, he just has this ability to control the match well with a kicking game – but at times when he needs to he has got a good understanding of when to take the ball to the line,“ Hilton said.
“The Stars are a very good team in their own right, they’ve had a few injuries but continue to be a strong team, they’re playing a pace and style of game that some teams at times can’t match.”
Despite this precarious run of matches to finish their regular season, the other remaining NRC fixtures have the potential to play favourably into the Rising’s hands.
Perth Spirit (5th) and QLD Country (6th) both have a bye in the last three rounds, whilst NSW Country take on the Spirit on Saturday – a match that could be terminal for either side’s season.
QLD Country also host the Vikings in the final round, another fixture that could take away points from the chasing pack.
Ultimately the Rising can determine their own fate, with two wins all but guaranteeing them a place in the knockout stage and three sealing the spot.
Success is almost a necessity for Melbourne, who have been amongst the pacesetters across the opening two seasons of the NRC.
“We obviously set out quite early to try and win the competition, at the moment we are probably not playing good enough rugby to win that – so we need to continue to get our own process right first and foremost,” Hilton said.
“This weekend is a great start and we are not looking any further forward than this weekend, we need to get it right first and then hopefully build some form off the back of it.”
Melbourne Rising remaining fixtures:
Round 7: UC Vikings v Melbourne Rising – Friday 2 October, 7:30pm, Viking Park, Canberra
Round 8: Melbourne Rising v NSW Country Eagles – Thursday 8 October, 7:30pm, Simonds Stadium, Geelong
Round 9: Melbourne Rising v Sydney Stars – Sunday 18 October, 1:30pm, Frankston Oval, Frankston