NSW Country’s National Rugby Championship (NRC) destiny is its Queensland counterpart’s hands after the Eagles played out a topsy-turvy draw with fellow finals contenders Brisbane City at Orange’s Endeavour Oval on Saturday afternoon.
The 38-all draw leaves both sides locked on 20 competition points but thanks to differential City’s campaign is over, while the Eagles still sit tentatively in fourth spot and anxiously await the result of Queensland Country’s final round clash with Perth on Sunday night.
If Queensland Country wins, the Eagles will hang on to fourth spot. A victory will wrap-up the minor title for the Queensland side too.
“There’s not much thought we can put into it other than hoping that result falls our way really,” NSW Country Paddy Ryan said just after full-time on Saturday.
“We won't count our chickens too early but we’ll regroup and start talking about it as if we’re playing, we’ll just have to hope the result goes our way.”
The Tamworth-born prop labelled the draw “disappointing”, especially considering his side had fought its way back into the lead after trailing 19-14 at half-time and looked home and hosed at the 58-minute mark, leading 35-19.
But NSW Country couldn’t put the game to bed.
Brisbane City scored twice before Eagles five-eighth Tayler Adams made it 38-31 with a 74th minute penalty.
Brisbane answered back with a try to Chris Kuridrani two minutes later and Jake Strachan converted to lock it up but despite a couple of chances each way and the game going well past 80 minutes, neither side could produce a match-winning movement.
“It is a disappointing draw, it was ours to win,” Ryan lamented.
“Brisbane City fought pretty hard and they defended particularly well, but it’s really disappointing.
“I don’t really think we fell in and out of the game at all, I think we just let things that we couldn’t control get to us a bit.
“There was a few things out there that were out of our control that weren’t quite up the scratch and that is disappointing at this level, but we also let it get to us.
“But, we need to move on, let that go and hope the result goes our way so we’re playing next week.”
Both sides were guilty of handling errors as they worked their way into the must-win blockbuster.
City bombed two all but certain tries in the opening seven minutes through handling errors, knock-ons also costing them the ball in the Eagles’ red-zone on at least two other occasions.
The Eagles could have taken advantage, had they not continually handed possession back to City.
Thanks to that weight of possession the visitors looked the more likely of the two sides to open the scoring, but it was the Eagles that eventually did in the 14th minute.
NSW Country hooker Brandon Brandon Paenga-Amosa dived over the first of his three tries for the afternoon after Ryan McCauley, a Calare Public School graduate, opened up City’s defence with a barnstorming carry.
Adams added the extras, before giving Brisbane City its first points 10 minutes later.
After his pack put a mountain of pressure on NSW Country through mauls and pick-and-drives, Brisbane City halfback Nick Frisby chipped to the right corner for winger Jayden Ngamanu.
Adams, who defended at fullback, made plenty of ground to win the race to the ball, but batted it into touch in goal.
On advice from his touch judge referee Will Houston ruled Adams had intentionally knocked on, awarding the Queenslanders a penalty try and sin-binning the Eagles stand-off as a result.
NSW Country answered back straight away though, Paenga-Amosa falling over for his second after the first of many powerful, patient and above all clinical rolling mauls the Eagles produced.
The line-out drive has worked superbly all season for the Eagles, and did so again on Saturday, three of the hosts’ five tries coming on the back of a maul.
Tom Hill converted in Adams’ absence, but back-to-back tries for Junior Laloifi and Pat Morrey handed Brisbane City a 19-14 advantage at the break.
NSW Country took control after the break, Paenga-Amosa scoring his third from a maul before the Eagles were awarded a penalty try of their own after Brisbane City collapsed a maul. Morrey was given a yellow card as a result.
The hosts pushed the scoreline to 35-19 when Alex Gibbon sprinted 60 metres to score, Adams putting Alex Newsome into space before he found the former Australian Sevens flyer.
At that point, the result looked all but certain.
But Brisbane City roared back into the game, Laloifi scored his second against the run of play and then flanker Michael Gunn crossed in the 65th minute to bring the deficit back to four points at 35-31.
Adams’ 74th penalty goal gave the Eagles a converted try lead but Kuridrani finished a Dylan Riley break two minutes from full-time, Strachan’s conversion squaring the ledger.
Both sides had chances after the final bell, winning penalties and having a crack as none were within kicking range but neither could break the deadlock.
The result gifts Perth, in sixth, a chance to sneak into the top four if it can upset Queensland Country, the competition leaders, on Sunday night.
Deservedly, Paenga-Amosa was named man-of-the-match. Rowan Perry was also superb for NSW Country, while Brisbane City’s centre pairing of Kuridrani and Maaloga Konelio were consistently dangerous.
- NSW COUNTRY EAGLES 38 (Brandon Paenga-Amosa 3, Alex Gibbon tries; penalty try; Tayler Adams 3 conversions, pen goal, Tom Hill conversion) drew with BRISBANE CITY 38 (Junior Laloifi 2, Michael Gunn, Pat Morrey, Chris Kuridrani tries; penalty try; Jake Strachan 3 conversions)