NRC: 2018 Brisbane City & QLD Country Season Preview
By Michael Atkinson
After three seasons near the bottom of the ladder, Queensland Country blew everyone off the park in 2017 to claim “the Toaster” as NRC Champions. Conversely, two-time title holders, Brisbane City, missed the finals for the second straight year.
How will each team fare in 2018? Here’s all you need to know.
Really, the only change to this year’s set up for Country is the coaching personnel, but, boy, what a change. Former Sunnybank and Brisbane City coach Rod Seib has taken the reins of the defending champions, and is assisted by rookie coach Michael Todd. They have some enormous shoes to fill replacing Brad Thorn and Paul Carozza, but they have the cattle to be more than competitive – so really, the spotlight will be on their ability as coaches at this level if Country don’t feature in the pointy end of the season.
He’s the captain and the senior player in the backline. The Reds’ Inside Centre was instrumental in Country’s charge to the championship in 2017, nearly earning a Wallaby call-up as a result (he was selected to play against the Barbarians, but it’s not an official cap).
Defending a title in any sport, at any level, is near on impossible (just ask University of Queensland), and the Country boys will need ‘Dunk’ to find the same form he produced last year if they want to emulate their Queensland cousins, and go back-to-back.
(Can’t imagine Country will get Taniela Tupou back much, if at all, so haven’t considered him as key player.)
Player to watch
Not a complete unknown given his handful of Reds caps this year, but the kids is… well… still a kid. He showed glimpses of what he can do, even at a Super Rugby level, so this competition will be the perfect setting to really allow him to unleash his full arsenal of weapons. Rumours have been flowing he might get some time at fullback, as the Reds look to develop depth in the troublesome 15 jersey; if Petaia does get shifted to the back, it would be glorious to see him returning the ball in broken play.
Where will they finish?
The expectations are high for this side after winning the comp last year. They certainly have the talent to do it again. The likely loss of Tongan Thor will hurt, but they should be able to field a very experienced front row in James Slipper, Alex Casey and Fred Burke, which won’t get bullied by any other front row in the comp (the battle with City should be epic).
Just how they gel under the new coaches will be the most crucial factor in their season.
Top two at least.
A highly talented squad is headed up by an experienced coaching team returning from last year in Mick Heenan and Elwee Prinsloo (plus Souths’ Elia Tuqiri has joined in). After an extremely disappointing season in 2016, City bounced back somewhat last year, but still missed the finals. Heenan has made winning a habit at UQ in the Queensland Premier Rugby competition, and it’s no surprise to see some of his most trusted “Red Heavies” in this City squad. Heenan also has two valuable weapons at his disposal: Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt. Just how much game time those two get is TBC, but you’d fancy City’s chances of reappearing in finals if at least one plays the majority of the season.
It has to be Quade Cooper. Everyone knows what he can do with a ball in hand or off the boot, but his ability to manage a game is the area that has (and should) come under most scrutiny. Things were going swimmingly at Souths in the club comp this year, until Quade’s game management started to steer the team in a different direction, which ultimately led them to an early finals exit. If he’s serious about returning to the Reds (or any professional set up) he needs to show some serious wares here. Sources have told he’s not off to a great start after missing the first week of training and team meetings while on holiday in Croatia. Heenan has trusty UQ playmaker, James Dagleish, ready to go if Quade doesn’t fill the bill.
Player to watch
Chatting to new City skipper, Adam Korczyk, this week, he has massive wraps on Junior Wallabies representative, McReight. A boom colt from the Brothers club, McReight is another in a long list of talented open-sides to come out of Australia’s rugby stocks. Hard over the ball, physical in the tackle and a work ethic that would run a cattle dog into the ground, the challenge for this 19-year-old now is to make himself stand out above the rest of the pack.
(Also, look out for Emori Waqavalungi. Brisbane club rugby fans know him well, for you others, I won’t give much away, but just remember the name, sit back and enjoy what this speedster can do.)
Where will they finish?
A talented backline, a stupidly good front row, and an experienced coaching staff indicate it should be a good year for the “Slickers”. I have some concerns over their lock stocks, so the lineout could be an area of exposure to oppositions, but just pack scrums all day and let the Smiths twins (JP and Ruan) and Brandon Paenga-Amosa do their thing.
Top four is likely.