So then, one month down, five weeks to go. With three more weeks of regular season and two weeks of National Rugby Championship finals to come, we’ve hit the halfway point of the season.
NRC seasons have never been marathons by any stretch, but the 2018 season really feels like the sprint it clearly is.
After sixteen games and a brilliant round of rugby last weekend, we’ve now got a pretty clear idea of where each of the eight teams ‘are at’.
Obviously, the table is a good measure of this, so let’s drag it up a bit higher this week. Tables often aren’t seen as being reflective of competitions, though, and often that’s because it’s easy to come up with whatever qualifier you need. Team X hasn’t played Team Y yet; Team Z has played three-quarters of their games on the road.
But right now, as it stands, the NRC table after four rounds perfectly reflects how I see the eight teams.
NRC table
Fiji 14, Queensland Country 14, Canberra 13, Western Force 13; Brisbane City 9, Melbourne 7, NSW Country 5, Sydney Rays 1.
First to fourth being separated by just one point is the clincher here, and it absolutely marries up with my broad views of the teams before the campaign began this year. Pre-season predictions are always dangerous for short competitions, but you naturally have ‘top half’ and ‘bottom half’ thoughts.
The table currently reflects my ‘top half’ and ‘bottom half’ thoughts. All the current top four are where I thought they’d be. I always thought Queensland Country would be up there, just as I did of the Western Force. Canberra and Fiji were definitely good enough to stick with them.
James Tuttle of Queensland Country. (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)
It’s not just the one-point gap that shows their closeness, though; the four teams’ for-and-against differentials all fall within 21 points of each other. That’s three converted tries in a competition currently averaging 10.4 tries per game.
Fiji, Queensland Country, and the Western Force are within four points for and two tries of each other in attack. Country and the Force have just one point in defence between them, while Fiji and Canberra are separated by seven; just four conceded tries separate the four teams. Canberra is slightly behind in attack, but this is somewhat cancelled out by having the best defence in the comp.
They’re clearly the four best teams in the comp, and I think they all go on from here and reach the semis.
Behind them, Brisbane City and Melbourne are certainly next best, and that’s reflected in the two teams sitting four and six points, respectively, outside the top four. Melbourne at halftime last Saturday looked like they’d comfortably beat Brisbane, yet City scrummed their way back into the contest and deserved the win.
Funnily enough, though, I still think the Rising are the team most likely to challenge a current top four side, but the big proviso is that they have to reach the top four first.
Brisbane have Queensland Country, NSW Country (away), and Canberra to come; Melbourne have Canberra (away), Western Force, and Sydney.
Quade Cooper for Brisbane City. (Sportography)
Both runs home are pretty tough, and I’m not sure either City or the Rising are consistent enough to win enough games to challenge for a top four berth.
Below them, while I hoped NSW Country and Sydney would be better than their current rankings, I kind of feared this was where they’d be.
The Eagles were unlucky to lose to Canberra on Sunday though, and they have showed some really good signs in their last two games. They have two top four teams to come in their run home, and though I can’t see them winning all three remaining games, I have a sneaking suspicion they might jag two wins to finish their season.
I can’t say that about the Rays, however. They’ve got three road trips to come, and I’ve still got Johnny Football’s ‘they’ll go winless’ ringing in my ears.
It’s certainly great to see Jack Dempsey playing again, and I stand by my suggestion on the weekend of the need for a completely separate Shambeckler Vui category with the NRC Try of the Year voting. I even like a fair bit of what young Will Harrison has shown at flyhalf.
But gee, it’s really hard to see how and against who they break their duck.
The NRC has always thrown up a curve-ball on the run home, however, and now the fun becomes trying to identify when and where that curve-ball pops up.
NRC Round 5
SATURDAY
Fiji Drua vs NSW Country Eagles – Ratu Cakobau Park, Nausori, Fiji; 3.00pm FST/1.00pm AEST, streamed LIVE on www.foxsports.com.au
Canberra Vikings vs Melbourne Rising – Viking Park, Canberra; 7.00pm, LIVE on FOX SPORTS
SUNDAY
Brisbane City vs Queensland Country – Wests Rugby Club, Brisbane; 3.00pm, LIVE on FOX SPORTS
Western Force vs Sydney – UWA Sports Park, Perth; 3.00pm, streamed LIVE on www.foxsports.com.au
TIPS
All four away teams won last weekend, but I’m not sure that will be the case this weekend.
I think the Drua and Vikings get up at home on Saturday, but with varying widths of margin.
On Sunday, the Queensland derby will be a ripper. Brisbane City have the edge over the history of this game, but Country are a really good outfit again this year and with existing combinations serving them well, and I think that’ll be the case again.
Over in the west, the Force shouldn’t have too much trouble with Sydney – but, it was the Rays that ended Perth’s two-year unbeaten run at McGillivray.
Beware the curve ball…

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It’s another big weekend of horse racing, culminating in the Victoria Derby at 2:50pm (AEDT) on Saturday, November 3. This is The Roar’s ultimate guide to live streaming the race online, or watching it on TV. The 2500m race is one of the longest derbies in the country and, taking place on the first day […]

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Trade period and draft analysis: Gold Coast
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‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’. It’s a phrase that aptly describes the ‘drafting good players/losing good players’ scenario facing the Gold Coast Suns, for whom the 2018 draft shapes as a crucial foundation for the club’s long-term future. Since the club’s formation in 2010, it has had 15 first-round draft […]

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