Spirit emerge from shadows as NRC front runner

THEY talked softly and carried a big stick for much of 2016 but the Perth Spirit have emerged a real force in the National Rugby Championship after three weekends of action.

Many good judges felt they were the underdogs going into last year’s NRC finals series but that was so far from the reality that the Sydney Rays and NSW Country Eagles experienced.

Big wins over the undermanned Rays in the semi-final and then an impressive negotiation of the final against the Eagles told a story of the class, attitude and depth of their squad.

This year though the cover has been blow and their 61-17 win over the Greater Sydney Rams in Perth on Sunday must have many opposition coaches nervy about a raid trip west.

The Spirit scored nine tries to three and snapped the two match winning streak that the Rams had racked up in the first fortnight of the competition.

There’s nothing really fancy about the way that the Spirit plays but they are extremely effective, an opinions shared by Rams coach John Manenti.

“They were good once they worked their way through the initial stages against us,” Manenti, fresh from the red eye from the west, said.

“And once they were on a roll they were hard to contain. Billy Meakes and Curtis Rona (both back from the Wallabies squad) gave their squad a real lift but that said we did let ourselves down in a few areas.

“They have strike power right across the field and they were impressive. They all played like they were Super (Rugby) players.”

Elsewhere the NSW Country Eagles were beaten 31-14 by the Fijian Drua in Fiji and will need to get their campaign back on the rails after no registering any competition points in the first three weeks of the NRC.

The Drua look like they will be a force in this competition and by the looks of things will be a tough nut to crack at home in front of their vocal supporter base.

The Eagles will come good but if you look at the table it’s apparent that the race to the playoffs is going to a tight run affair.

At Pittwater Rugby Park on Saturday the Sydney Rays got their campaign off and running with a 48-28 win over a Melbourne Rising side that featured Wallaby Lopeti Timani and a number of Aussie U20 internationals.

The Rays scored seven tries to four and things seemed have clicked after their stuttering start against the Greater Sydney Rams the week before.

Head coach Julian Huxley said: “That was much better. We capitalised on some opportunities and we got our attitude right which was what we set last year.

“That’s there benchmark from now on and we just have to fix up a few areas and be more accurate and keep moving on to next week.

“The first week is always though when you are blending a lot of new players together and taking on board a lot of knowledge.

“We felt that we were just missing the mark with our attitude and our physicality against the Rams and we were determined that that didn’t happen this week.

“There were some fantastic signs out there and they looked like they enjoyed it as well. They all ripped in one to 15 and that’s what it’s all about.”

The other winners from the weekend were Brisbane City who were steered to a tight 42-40 win over the previously undefeated Canberra Vikings by Quade Cooper.

Saturday 16 September 
Fijian Drua v Elders NSW Country Eagles
FIJIAN DRUA 31 (Tries: Lomani 2, Sau, Waqatabu, Daveta; Cons: Waqatabu 3; Yellow cards: E. Sau (60’))
NSW COUNTRY EAGLES 14 (Tries: Wileman, Penalty; Cons: Adams 1)

Sydney Rays v Melbourne Rising
SYDNEY RAYS 48 (Tries: Latunipulu 3, Burey, Connor, Latunipulu, McDuling; Cons: Saifoloi 5; Pens: Saifoloi 1; Yellow cards: Hugh Sinclair (40’))
MELBOURNE RISING 28 (Tries: Tuipulotu, Penalty try, Tupou, Maddocks; Cons: McGregor 3)

Sunday 17 September 
Brisbane City v Canberra Vikings
BRISBANE CITY 42 (Tries: Alatimu 2, Tui, Ma’afu, Richards, Ready; Cons: Cooper 6/6; Cards: Douglas (76’))
CANBERRA VIKINGS 40 (Tries: Banks 2, Dargaville 2, Johnston, Powell; Cons: Hawera 4/5, Lonergan 1/1)

Perth Spirit v Greater Sydney Rams
PERTH SPIRIT 61 (Tries: Meakes 2, Koteka 2, Lance, Vui, Malolo, Verity-Amm, Owen; Cons: Lance 4/4, Prior 4/5
GREATER SYDNEY RAMS 17 (Tries: Grant 2, Mason; Cons: Mason 1/3)

1. Perth Spirit 10
2. Fijian Drua 10
3. Canberra Vikings 9
4. Greater Sydney Rams 9
5. Brisbane City 8
6. Queensland Country 5
7. Sydney Rays 5
8. NSW Country Eagles 0
9. Melbourne Rising 0