It’s business time! Eight teams started out in the Buildcorp NRC this season, and now just four remain as we embark upon elimination, semi-final action.
Finishing the season as minor premiers, Horan-Little Shield holders and Benn Robinson Bell ringers, the NSW Country Eagles are most people’s favourites to become the first side outside of Brisbane City to win the Buildcorp NRC, in its’ third iteration this year.
Star Eagles’ centre David Horwitz wrote for the RUPA website back in Round Two and he returns again to fill us in on all things NSW Country as they head into their home semi-final against the Melbourne Rising in Newcastle on Saturday.
Horwitz tells us how his team have come together so well in 2016 despite such a limited preparation, and the merger of two former NRC teams (and three Shute Shield arch-rivals) into one entity, as well as looking ahead to Saturday’s big game in Newcastle.
David Horwitz - In His Own Words, Semi Finals:
We’re really pleased to have finished the season with the minor premiership and qualified for finals, and I think a big part of that can be attributed to our ability to unite as one real team in such a short space of time. I think our shared competitiveness, and desire to be successful, has been the key in that.
(Head Coach) Darren Coleman got the boys together before the season kicked off, and we set a goal which we thought was realistic considering the squad we have. That goal hasn’t changed; we want to win the competition, and everybody has been and still remains determined to reap that reward. It’s been a natural development that with every win, the boys have gotten closer.
We’ve built what we think is a very strong culture based on be a close group of people who are very open, very driven and want to achieve something pretty special.
We’ve bonded through our actions more than anything. When one of the boys does something great on attack, or puts their body on the line for the cause, you all get around it and it’s just been so natural; nothing’s been forced. It’s not like we’ve had to go to a bonding session or stand up and say things about ourselves to form a connection.
We’ve got a great leadership group and everybody feels a part of the team, even though we have people from different Clubs in Sydney and guys that have played for almost every NRC team previously. Tom Hill and Sam Ward came over from the Rays, while Cam Betham, Sam Needs and Jed Gillespie switched over from the Rams and Rowan Perry played for Canberra Vikings before moving to Sydney this year to play for Easts. Then there’s Tim Buchanan, who played for Brisbane City in 2014, Tom Cusack and Sam Figg coming in from the Sevens program, Kyle Godwin from Perth and the boys who were with the Sydney Stars before we merged this year.
Rather than seeing that as an obstacle to overcome, we’ve used that to shape our culture. That’s why we are such a close-knit group; those boys consciously chose to come to the Country Eagles and buy into who we are as a team, rather than choosing to go elsewhere. That reflects really well on the Eagles, with those boys making that call because they like the style of footy we play and either from what they have heard or what they have seen in the past two years. It all adds to our standards, and to the mateship.
Initially, there were a few little pockets of mates and everybody started off just warming up with the guys that they knew and felt comfortable with. Now, it’s actually very cool that I don’t notice any distinct groups at training at all; we’re all under the Eagle banner.
You really can’t help but feel that you have to tip your hats at the guys who have full-time jobs away from Rugby and turn up to Eagles training after a full day’s work. You look at somebody like Apakuki Ma’afu, who is on the tools all day from 7am til 4pm and then comes to training and decides he wants to do an extra weights session, and it’s pretty impressive.
Playing for Randwick in the Shute Shield, two of our biggest rivalries are against Easts and Sydney Uni, and now we’re all aligned at the Eagles as one team. It’s testament to how good the individuals are and how strong our squad is that instead of any awkwardness that we’re now teammates, I’m really excited to play alongside these guys. It also means that the battle when we play against each other in the Shute Shield the next season, when we’re playing as mates, are heightened. It’s personal and you’re playing for bragging rights off the field.
For example, whenever we play against Sydney Uni and I come up against somebody like Gus Roberts, I get frustrated at how good he is. Same with Jake Gordon, but having him split the line three or four times a match is much better when he’s playing with me and doing it in the NRC, rather than doing it against Randwick.
We’ve only lost one match this season, against Queensland Country in Round Six. Some people believe that it was ‘the one we had to lose’, but from our point of view the momentum we were building was interrupted so it was still disappointing.
I guess when you’re winning, a lot of the little mistakes in training you’re making, or bad habits amongst the team can get glossed over, so losing that one brought a few things to the surface which has been good. It highlighted some of the areas that we need to work on, and then last week was our best training week all season knowing that we needed to hit back against the Rams. Retrospectively, you can look at it as a positive, but we would have loved to have gone through the regular season undefeated.
To this weekend, and we haven’t talked about heading in as favourites, because in our minds it’s so far removed from being a forgone conclusion. The Rising are almost a full Super Rugby team and have so much talent in their midst, so none of us think we’ve already won this game and we know that we have a massive challenge on our hands.
This competition is so close from a playing perspective that the wins and losses are pretty irrelevant this time of the year, and it is all about who shows up on the day. There’s no added pressure on the boys because we know how difficult this game is and it will be very similar to all seven we’ve played which have been, to be honest, pretty much competitive every time.
The Rising are one of the most difficult teams we have played all year and we only just pipped them by two points when we met in Tamworth in Round Three. In the second half when that game was right in the balance they really stepped up physically; they were coming out of the line and putting some big shots on!
Up front, our forwards will have a massive battle at the set piece and in general play to try and dominate their pack, and then they have some very skilful backs as well. In the centres, they have Sione (Tuipulotu) and Tom (English) and they probably got the points against Kyle and I when we played in Tamworth. Then they’ve got Jonah Placid at the back, who is electric and counter attacks so well that you need to try and kick away from him.
They have threats across the field and are a team who can gather momentum once they get their tails up after a few big hits, and then it’s very hard to weather the storm. We definitely have a massive challenge on our hands, so we’re making sure we concentrate on what has worked well over the last seven rounds and not trying to do much different.
(Captain) Paddy Ryan has been into the boys this week about how nothing changes this week because it’s a final; not our routine, not our game plan. Just because there is increased value, we need to play the same game and hopefully we can get the same result; I’m really looking forward to it
2016 Buildcorp NRC, Semi Finals (all times AEDT):
- NSW Country Eagles vs. Melbourne Rising, 3:00pm Saturday October 15th, No.2 Sportsground, Newcastle (LIVE on FOX Sports)
- Sydney Rays vs. Perth Spirit, 3:00pm, Sunday October 16th, Pittwater Rugby Park, Sydney (LIVE on FOX Sports)
NSW Country Eagles, 2016 results:
Round 1: NSW Country 22 def. Brisbane City 12
Round 2: UC Vikings 28 def. NSW Country 60
Round 3: NSW Country 32 def. Melbourne Rising 30
Round 4: Sydney Rays 16 def. by NSW Country 36
Round 5: NSW Country 48 def. NSW Country 24
Round 6: QLD Country 40 def. NSW Country 38
Round 7: Western Sydney Rams 40 def. by NSW Country 44