NRC Grand Final: Brisbane City See Off Spirit To Lift Inaugural Title
It was perhaps fitting that a competition that began a little over 10 weeks ago with a Brisbane City win at Ballymore, ended in the same fashion last night as City saw off a resolute and adventurous Perth Spirit, 37-26, to lift the inaugural NRC title.
A touch under 8,000 people, a competition record, turned up to cheer on the home side and their faith was rewarded by a performance worthy of the occasion. City’s power up front ultimately did the damage, a dominant scrum earning a penalty try and milking plenty of penalties to provide the platform for their dazzling backs to shine as they won their ninth game of the campaign to become champions.
A see-sawing first half saw the sides share six tries as Spirit took the game to their hosts with some terrific counter attacking flair but it was City who led 24-21 at the break. The visitor’s maintained the rage after the restart but couldn’t find the breakthrough as City manned up in defence and broke Spirit’s resistance with two more tries to record a memorable win.
Spirit carried on where they left off from last week’s semi-final against Melbourne Rising. Putting together a host of phases from the opening whistle to get themselves within range, a couple of damaging pick and drives and a short ball from Pek Cowan gave Junior Rasolea the space to dive home and open the scoring in only the third minute
Stung into a response, City hit back four minutes later. A scrum penalty was kicked to touch for a 10 metre lineout and when the subsequent driving maul was felled just short, Liam Gill took it upon himself to drive over from a metre, too strong for the attentions of Spirit scrumhalf Ian Prior.
City thought they were in for their second in the 13th minute when winger Matt Feaunati raced towards the corner but Spirit fullback, Dane Haylett-Petty, matched his try saving exploits from the previous week to knock the ball free from Feaunati’s hands with the line begging.
Gill was an effervescent presence as City continued to ramp up the pressure, at his poaching best at the breakdown and showing some tidy offload skills to boot, one superb reverse pass in the tackle almost freeing halfback Nick Frisby to the posts but the under fire Spirit defence scrambled well to smother the attack and clear.
Spirit continued to lead a charmed life when a rampaging Jake Schatz was then held up over the line in the 16th minute, but credit to Ian Prior for somehow holding firm against a much bigger opponent. However, the dam had to eventually break and it was City’s dominant scrum that forced the issue, their well marshalled pack driving forward in front of the posts and when Spirit’s front row stood up under the pressure, referee Rohan Hoffman had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try.
In danger of letting the game slip away from them, Spirit regrouped to quell City’s surge with a second try of their own, and it came from a rarely used play in the NRC. With the City defence lined up in expectation of yet another driving maul off a Perth lineout, flyhalf Zack Holmes caught them on the hop with a rugby league style sixth-tackle bomb to the opposite corner that was claimed with aplomb by a soaring Haylett-Petty, who grounded to make it a 3pt ball game.
Having built a position of ascendancy, City suddenly found themselves on the backfoot as Perth’s confidence and adventure with ball in hand grew off the back of Haylett-Petty’s score. And it was the ubiquitous fullback who was carrying the fight, sparking a succession of counter attacking raids that showcased the potential of his side with ball in hand and a band of willing runners.
Just after the half hour, they capped off their revival with another well worked try to regain the lead but it was one that drew the ire of City’s players and supporters. Prior sniped off the back of a ruck and used referee Hoffman as a screen to break the line and release hooker Robbie Abel to the chalk. But despite never actually coming into contact with the official, Prior’s opposite number, Nick Frisby, was incensed that the try was awarded, feeling that Hoffman’s positioning had impeded his ability to make a tackle.
Fired up by the alleged wrongdoing, City went back to basics from the restart and retook the lead in the shadows of half-time. Skipper Dave McDuling didn’t hesitate to point to the touchline when his side earned a penalty and his decision was vindicated when a textbook driving maul allowed powerful prop Pettowa Paraka to send his team to the sheds with a 24-21 advantage.
Defences reigned supreme in the opening 10 minutes of the second half as Spirit, buoyed by the wind at their backs, had the lion’s share of possession and territory but failed to trouble the scoreboard.
Their profligacy was punished when City, from their first visit into the red zone in the second stanza, utilised the strength of their pack to drive Paraka over off a lineout for his second and the team’s fourth. McIntyre couldn’t add the extras this time but as the game entered it’s final quarter, Spirit had some work to do to turn things around.
Perhaps feeling the effects of their recent travel schedule and a shorter turnaround from the semi-finals than their opponents, the Perth side were beginning to look jaded and coach Kevin Foote went to his bench in response. But the refreshments couldn’t provide the spark to reignite Spirit’s challenge and with six minutes left, City crossed again to effectively seal the title in their favour.
When replacement Junior Laloifi received the ball on the left flank on halfway, he still had plenty of work to do. But do it he did, burning his first defender on the outside before scorching his way past another desperate lunge from a second and finishing with a dramatic dive and one-handed put down to outdo a third. It was a fitting way for City to cement the Championship.
Spirit lived up to their name to play the full 80 with the game already gone and their doggedness brought a last minute consolation, Davis Tavita on the end of a crossfield move. But the try was of significance to the scoreboard operator only and the day – and the trophy – belonged to City and the Ballymore faithful.
Brisbane City 37 (Pettowa Paraka 2, Liam Gill, Penalty Try, Junior Laloifi tries; Jake McIntyre 4 cons) defeated Perth Spirit 26 (Junior Rasolea, Dane Haylett-Petty, Robbie Abel, Davis Tavita tries; Zack Holmes 2 cons) Crowd: 7,889