NRC Wk 3: Country Stay Unbeaten As Rays Fade In the Wet
The NRC is proving to be a comfortable fit for the NSW Country Eagles, the boys from the bush making it three from three with a 33-21 victory over the North Harbour Rays at a rain drenched Brookvale Oval this evening.
The prolific Andrew Kellaway added another double to his try scoring tally to make it six in three games as the Eagles continued to look like the most well drilled, well coached and most cohesive unit from New South Wales thus far.
Recovering from an early deficit, they were up 16-5 just before half-time before a perfectly executed rolling maul brought the Rays back into contention. When flying winger Dave Feltscheer brought the house down with a storming 60 metre run to give the home side the lead on 50 minutes, it looked like the 1,900 or so hardy souls that braved the weather would get to see the Rays open their account for the season. But a couple of errors inside their own half were clinically punished by Samu Wara and then the instincts of Kellaway, to ensure the Eagles’ unbeaten run continued.
Captain Matt Carraro was understandably pleased at the final whistle. “It’s coming together well, three from three and it’s great to have those wins on the board,” he told Fox Sports. “By no means was it a pretty win but we’ve had two games in sloppy conditions now and it’s very pleasing to come away with another win.”
Asked to pinpoint the reasons for his side’s impressive start, Carraro felt that the squad was blessed with a nice balance of youth and experience. “I guess it’s just the drive of the young boys who really want to make a mark on this comp and show what they can do and we’re lucky we’ve got a fair few who aren’t on contract and are willing to do that.”
One of whom is Andrew Kellaway. “He’s been scoring a few tries and it’s quite nice to have a winger who can do that,” said his skipper. “But he works hard ‘Kel’ and always shows up in the right places, he’s definitely one to watch for the future.”
Rays captain Greg Peterson conceded his team had simply come up against a better side on the night. “They’re really well drilled and you can see that extra four day camp that they had really helped them in their prep,” he said. “We can’t really have any excuses, we had enough time the last week and a half, we’ve just got to nail the little things better. We lacked the execution in the last 20 and they took it away from us.”
It was a frantic start at Brookvale as both sides let the ball fly despite the recent downpour but it was the home side who took the lead only four minutes in from some good old fashioned forward play. A 10 metre lineout maul set the ball rolling before a succession of pick and drives ended with flanker Michael Wells driving over.
Hamish Angus couldn’t add the all important 3pt extras as the wind began to swirl around the famous old Sea Eagles stomping ground but the Rays had the fast start they would have been looking for.
However, Country soon hit back and it was yet another five pointer to gun winger Andrew Kellaway. Fullback Pat Dellit put up a midfield bomb that, seemingly, only he wanted to claim, the forwards piled in to support and when the ball went wide, Ed Stubbs fed Tala Gray who released Kellaway down the left flank, the 18-year-old offering up a body swerve or two before gunning it to the line.
A superb conversion from flyhalf Sam Windsor edged the visitors in front as the rain that seems to be plaguing this competition in Sydney, returned with a vengeance. It’s arrival heralded a more pragmatic approach from both sides, the ball seeing a bit more air time as opposing kickers probed for a mistake but when the pill was kept in hand, it was the Eagles who looked the more familiar in terms of combinations and the more adept handling wise.
Kellaway was almost in for a second in the 21st minute, a deft grubber through to the corner from Stubbs instigating a foot race between the try machine and Rays flyer, Dave Feltscheer. But anyone who’s watched a bit of Sydney club rugby over the last couple of seasons will know that there’s not many around that can stay with the Warringah utility back and he duly got there first to dot down in goal.
Stubbs and centre partner Carraro, were making inroads through the midfield, getting over the gain line and choking any attempts from their Rays counterparts to do likewise as Country started to take control and it was they who went in next on the half hour with a terrific counter attacking team try.
The Rays had looked a chance themselves, playing their way inside the Eagles’ 22 with numbers but when one pass failed to hit the chest, Brendan McKibbin quickly sensed an opportunity, scooped up and took off downfield. A pass inside to Stephen Hoiles offered the Waratahs loose forward a chance to show off his soccer skills with a delightful chip over the retreating Rays line and into the hands of Kellaway, who in turn fed Stubbs away to the corner. 80 metres of terrific vision and execution.
Having drifted away in terms of their intensity and possession, the Rays grabbed a vital score in the shadows of half-time, and it was a case of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Backing their maul, they kicked to touch and validated the decision with an almost impregnable drive marshalled by captain Peterson and fellow giant, Ed Gower, that finished with vice captain Luke Holmes flopping over the line. Hamish Angus dissected the posts and a half that had seen Country edge the contest and the Rays miss 21 tackles, was firmly in the balance at 16-13.
The early minutes of the second half saw Brendan McKibbin start to flex his Super Rugby muscles, mixing his game up nicely with darts, snipes, delayed passes and a couple of grubbers thrown in for good measure. Camping on the edge of the Rays’ 22, the Eagles looked set fair to increase their advantage but a few dropped balls and sloppy passes later and they were unable to find a breakthrough.
Their profligacy seemed to fire up the home side and, prepared to chance their arm a bit more, the Rays began to stretch the Country line and find some holes and in the 50th minute, they opened up a big one. Cam Crawford sent a long, looping pass out wide to the lone figure of Dave Feltscheer and the speedster pinned back his ears and floored it over halfway before stepping inside once and then twice past a couple of ineffectual tackles, to race to the chalk for the obligatory swan dive.
21-16, and if the impressive home crowd thought that was the turning point, they were right. Unfortunately, for them, it was in favour of the visitors, as a couple of errors made pushing for another score came back to bite the Rays hard on both occasions.
A turnover from Kotoni Ale inside his own 22 was spread wide for a counter but when Harry Jones failed to hold a Michael Adams pass and the ball span up into the air, Samu Wara plucked it from the sky to run home. Five minutes later, a loose pass from Angus fell between two of his runners and the predatory Kellaway was there first to soccer ahead and swoop in for try no.6 of this fledgling competition.
With the game in their hands, the Eagles then showed their killer instinct, opting for a rare 2pt penalty on 67 minutes to take themselves out to a 10pt lead and as both coaches emptied their benches and the NRC rain returned once more, you sensed the Rays needed another bit of Feltscheer-like magic from somewhere if they were to rescue this one.
It didn’t come and their fate was sealed in the final minute when the imperious Sam Windsor knocked over another penalty to leave the high flying Eagles unbeaten and sitting proudly on top of the ladder.
Charles Sturt University NSW Country Eagles 33 (Andrew Kellaway 2, Ed Stubbs, Samu Wara tries; Sam Windsor 3 cons, 2 pens) defeated Macquarie University North Harbour Rays 21 (Michael Wells, Luke Holmes, Dave Feltscheer tries; Hamish Angus 2 cons)