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Early Favourites Emerge

Early Favourites Emerge
Fiji Airways Drua team during their training session at Bidesi Park on September 4, 2018.. Photo: Ronald Kumar
September 05
10:48 2018

Three really entertaining matches have kicked off the 2018 National Rugby Championship, with some outstanding rugby played across the board and all three winners laying down some serious statements of intent.

Drua pick up where they left off last year

It might have taken them more than half an hour to post their first five-pointer of the season but the Fiji Airways Fijian Drua didn’t take long after that to fall back into their wonderful habit of running in sweet counter-attack tries from distance.

Flanker Filimone Seru got them underway with a cheeky upright pilfer and quickly got the ball into the hands of his fast men, with the flying Levani Kurumudu only happy to finish it off next to the posts.

Melbourne Rising had only just scored the first try of the season a few minutes earlier, and were still scratching their head about where the ball went as Kurumudu dotted down.

Once they had the taste of it, the Drua turned it on, with first five–eighth Alivereti Veitokani finishing off a long-range effort that will have to feature in Try of the Year discussions, and four more in the second half to finish the Rising off, with 2017 stars Apisalome Waqatabu and Avete Daveta among them.

The Drua lit up the first month of the NRC last season playing this style of brutal defence coupled with lethal counter attack, and already it feels like they’re going to do the same in 2018.

Defending champs make statement

When their squad came out, the core combinations remaining from their 2017 championship always meant that Queensland Country were going to be a tough team to beat.

Bringing their backrow combinations and a good chunk of their pack through for another season, plus James Tuttle and Hamish Stewart in the halves and Duncan Paia’aua directing the midfield, Country just oozed class on paper.

Turns out, they ooze class on the field too.

The Canberra Vikings weren’t terrible in Saturday night’s replay of last year’s decider, and even fought hard to get themselves right back into the contest in the second half, but they just looked like a side who had only had half as much preparation time as did their Country opposites.

And that was basically the difference between the sides; Country’s 45-35 win was a decent reflection of the contest, with both sides looking really sharp at times, even scoring tries at will. It’s just that Country had more moments.

Force confirm favouritism

The thing about the NRC kicking off every year is that the short turnaround between the respective Premier Rugby grand finals around the country means that we’re asking the seven Australian sides to hit the ground running even though some teams have barely been together a week.

Except that this year, the Western Force had the distinct advantage of not only time together as a playing group, but actually having a full World Series Rugby campaign under their belts to build a healthy form line and bed down combinations.

The Force had to start the 2018 NRC as clear favourites. The closest any other teams could come to the Force was the two Queensland sides playing an opposed training trial game last weekend.

And they just underlined those thoughts on Sunday, methodically accounting for Brisbane City with an incredible forwards-led display – highlighted by that magnificent 30-metre rolling maul in the lead-up to replacement hooker Feleti Kaitu’u’s first try.

Feedback:  oseab@fijisun.com.fj

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