PREVIEW: National rugby Championship, Finals
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: NSW Country Eagles will host their first ever home final when they lock horns with silent achievers Perth Spirit in the Grand Final of the Australian National Rugby Championship at Scully Park in Tamworth.
NSW Country Eagles Coach, Darren Coleman has made two changes to the side that defeated the Melbourne Rising 50-24 in their home NRC semifinal at Newcastle last weekend.
Captain Paddy Ryan, Folau Fa’ainga and Sam Needs make up a new-look front row, with Tolu Latu and Tom Robertson away on national duty.
Rohan O’Reegan and Tim Buchanan retain their spots in the second row, whilst the ever-reliable Rowan Perry, Sam Ward and Sam Figg will look to win what will be a crucial battle at the breakdown.
The Eagles backs are unchanged with try-scoring machines Jake Gordon and Reece Robinson both eligible to top the individual NRC try scoring tallies for 2016.
Gordon sits one clear of right winger Robinson, but the attacking combinations that have been developing across the season should result in expansive and exciting football come Saturday night.
Their NSW Waratahs teammates, Andrew Kellaway and David Horwitz slot into fullback and outside centre respectively, whilst Kyle Godwin retains his spot at inside centre.
The Perth Spirit, who ended the regular season in the third position, will undoubtedly put up a fight and be bolstered by their confidence-boosting semifinal win that saw them upset the Sydney Rays.
Perth Spirit will field a full-strength side for the decider with last year’s NRC Player of the Year, Jono Lance named to start at flyhalf.
It remarkably pushes last weekend’s two-try scorer and semi-final Man of the Match, Ian Prior to the bench.
AJ Alatimu is the unlucky one to miss out on the match-day 23, while Luke Morahan has been selected at fullback despite training with the Wallabies since Monday.
Coach, Dwayne Nestor has kept an unchanged forward pack that features former Wallaby prop Pek Cowan, young gun Ross Haylett-Petty, and Western Force regular and Spirit captain Heath Tessmann.
The side will feature seven players that went down in the 2014 Grand Final to Brisbane City, including Morahan, Cowan and speedster, Marcel Brache.
The last time the two sides met was in Round 5 where the Country side won by 24 points at Concord Oval.
NSW Country Eagles: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 David Horwitz, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Andrew Deegan, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Sam Ward, 7 Rowan Perry, 6 Sam Figg, 5 Tim Buchanan, 4 Rohan O’Reegan, 3 Sam Needs, 2 Folau Fa’ainga, 1 Paddy Ryan (captain)
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Jed Gillespie, 18 Cam Betham, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Mark Baldwin, 22 Tayler Adams, 23 Tom Hill.
Perth Spirit: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Billy Meakes, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Onehunga Havilli, 4 Kieran Stringer, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Laione Mulikihaamea, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Grayson Knapp, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Eric Vasukicakau.
Date: Saturday, October 22
Venue: Scully Park, New South Wales, Australia
Kick-off: 19.40 AEDT (08.40 GMT)
Referee: Nick Berry
Assistant referees: William Houston, Rohan Hoffmann
TMO: George Ayoub