Super Rugby is over and it is time for provincial rugby again. Year three of the NRC sees new changes to the scoring structure, as well as the renaming of multiple teams. Brisbane city will be looking to complete the hat trick with another championship this year. The NRC has also worked out a new television deal with Fox Sports for the season and an elimination of the Thursday night game.
Guest writer Josh Bradham gives us the low down.
New Points Rule
This year begins with a shakeup to the points structure for the NRC. This season tries will be worth six points and all kicks will be worth two, in contrast to last season five points for a try, three for a conversion, and two for penalties.
The number of NSW teams drops this season to three, with the exit of semi-finalist from last season, the Sydney Stars. Two of the three NSW teams are also sporting new names with the North Harbour Rays becoming the Sydney Rays, and the Greater Sydney Rams becoming the Western Sydney Rams. NSW Country has introduced a developmental partnership with the University of Sydney to help improve the talent pool in NSW.
Scheduling changes and new TV deal
Fox sports has partnered with the NRC to bring two games per week to at home viewers. There is also a change to a Saturday and Sunday only schedule for games. All games in the NRC will be at a much more family friendly weekend time with the elimination of mid-week games, and is expected to result in higher attendance and better ratings for the coming season.
2015 NRC Final Table 1 Brisbane City 38 2 Canberra Vikings 35 3 Melbourne Rising 20 4 Sydney Stars 20 5 NSW Country Eagles 19 6 Perth Spirit 16 7 North Harbour Rays 11 8 Queensland Country 9 9 Greater Sydney Rams 7
Those are the major changes from the conference as a whole, now we’re going to take a look at the major off-season news from each of the NRC squads.
Last Year 8-0 & Champions
The two time defending champions will be looking to continue their dominance of the NRC under the lead of new captain Sam Talakai. Talakai has been capped for all 16 games of Brisbane City’s existence, as well as being the regular bench loose head prop for the Queensland Reds with 27 caps for the Super Rugby side. Brisbane City will also be led by a new head coach after the departure of Nick Stiles for the Queensland Reds. He will be replaced by assistant coach Rodney Seid who has also been coaching the Sunnybacks from the Queensland Premiership division since 2012.
Last Year 7-1 & Losing Finalists
The Vikings will be out for blood against Brisbane city after least seasons loss in the finals. This quest will be helped along by Canberra’s explosive second rowers Sam Carter and Rory Arnold, who are also placing their bid for a spot on the Wallabies squad. Many viewed Sam Carter’s absence from the Green and Gold for the Rugby Championship as a slight against the Viking lock, it will be up to him to make his case more forcefully for the upcoming November internationals. New Canberra head coach Wayne Southwell will attempt to reproduce the success he found with the Royals club last season, who won their way to promotion to the Canberra Premiership for the next season. The Vikings are also looking for that final boost from a squad which features a staggering 20 Brumbies in their lineup.
Last Year 5-3 & Losing Semi-Finalist
The best news for the Melbourne Rising coming into this season is the return of the high speed, high intensity Sefanaia Naivalu to the lineup after missing the entire 2015 season with a broken ankle. With five tries in five games in 2014 he may help the Rising tip the scales offensively. The rising will also benefit from the return to Australia of Alex Toolis, who spent three years as a lock for Edinburgh in the Guinness Pro 12, and Toolis was signed for the Melbourne Rebels as well as the Rising. U20s star hooker Jordan Ulese will be looking to making a name for himself with the rising ahead of his debut with the Rebels next season.
NSW Country Eagles
Last Year 4-4
The biggest news out of the NSW Eagles is their entry into a developmental agreement with the University of Sydney. This development comes in light of the ousting of the Sydney Stars from this year’s contest. Otherwise it has been a rather quiet off-season for the Eagles with very little outlook for the coming season.
Last Year 3-5
Spirit Hooker Heath Tessman has been named captain of the squad for the 2016 season. The 60+ Super Rugby cap will lead his team’s hopes to improve on a lack luster performance in the 2015 season. This improvement will be assisted by the signing of last year’s player of the year Jono Lance who will be joining the spirit after spending time last year with the Eagles. Tessman believes that the additional leadership of Lance as well as fellow Western Force teammate Ian Prior at Scrum Half will be a great improvement to the team structure.
Last Year 2-6
All Blacks star, the 41 year old Brad Thorn will be coming out of retirement to play for the Queensland Country Squad. Brad Thorn has been playing exciting ball on both sides of rugby for 20 yrs and after retiring last year found that it did not suit him and needed to make his return at some level after serving as assistant coach to Queensland Country last year. Former Wallaby Rugby World Cup winner Toutai Kefu has taken the reins of the squad for this year, pulling extra duty from his time as head coach for the Tonga national team. The addition of a head coach of this quality will be a major boost to Queensland Country.
Last Year 2-6
The Sydney Rays have named the 2015 Shute Shield coach of the year, Simon Cron, as head coach after previously named head coach Damien Cummins stepped down from the job. The Rays will receive help on the back line by Australia Sevens star Cam Clark who will be joining the Rays following his return from the Rio games. The Rays have also signed some up and coming talent to this year’s squad with the addition of Josh Turner from the Manly Marlins, and Tyson Davis of the Warrington Rats.
Western Sydney Rams
Last Year 1-7
The Rams have had a quiet off-season with the only major announcement of the off season being Kevin Locke changing over to play Union for the first time after a successful stint at fullback in the NRL for six seasons.
A big thank you to Josh Bradham for giving us this insight into the NRC, to get in touch with him check out his Twitter account.
With all this info I’m put my neck on the block and predict the table will finish:
1 Brisbane City 2 Canberra Vikings 3 Queensland Country 4 Melbourne Rising 5 Perth Spirit 6 NSW Country Eagles 7 Sydney Rays 8 Western Sydney Rams
Here is my 30 second 1 Line Predictions for the opening round. I’ll be doing 1 Line Predictions for every round so don’t forget to subscribe to the DrivingMaul newsletter for those.
Join in the DrivingMaul Prediction league for the NRC on SuperBru.