By Michael Atkinson. Photo: QRU Media - Brendan Hertal
Gee it’s great to have club rugby back! The Australian Super Rugby teams are battling and rumours continue to swirl about one team being sent in to oblivion. Then you roll down to your local Queensland Premier Rugby club on a Saturday and all is right again.
QPR has only been back for two rounds but already we’ve seen some surprising results, some magnificent individual skill and some hits that had so much force they could have knocked Cyclone Debbie off course and stopped her from hitting the mainland.
Here’s five things we’ve learned so far…
Red Heavyweights of the Competition
How do they do it? Every year, University of Queensland roll out a new crop of talented youngsters and they don’t miss a beat. In the first two rounds, UQ have posted 57 points in each of their two dominant victories. Not 57 in total, that’s in each game! In round one they put Wests to the sword, 57 to 17, which was not a total surprise but they followed that up with the same score line in week two, thumping premiership contenders, Souths.
Their “points for” from two games is 114 and they’ve conceded just 34, which, comparatively, looks minuscule. University have been known for being able to score points, but credit must go to new defence coach Elton Berrange because he’s helped build a big red wall at St. Lucia.
As last year taught us, anything can happen in the finals. Uni lost just one game in the regular season but were toppled twice in the finals, including the GF. But at the moment it seems hard to imagine anyone toppling the Heavies.
Defending a premiership is hard
Ok, ok, this is a well-known fact, but I think most people were surprised by Brothers’ first round loss to Easts. Coach Carl Marshall conceded that his side’s trial form had been poor and they lost a host of players for various reasons in the off season, so a slow start to the year can be expected.
The Brethren bounced back with a win in round two, but it was a 16-point home-win over Wests who had been pants-ed by Uni the week before. Many pundits would have expected Brothers to put on a similar score line.
The season is long and you don’t win premierships in March, so I expect Brothers to get better and find their rhythm as the year goes on. However, they will lose Marshall to the Australian U20s for a large chunk of the year, so that will really test their mettle.
How good is a chip-and-chase try?!
In the first two rounds, we have seen plenty of tries, as club rugby always throws up the style of play fans want to see. But amongst those tries there have been two clear stand outs.
In round one, Sunnybank’s Conrad Quick scored a mouth-watering five-pointer from inside his own half against Souths. A step back inside to beat the first line of defence, followed by a chip over the fullback and a 40-metre spring to beat everyone (by a country mile) to ground the ball in-goal. It was mesmerising and I have watched it four or five times over.
Souths winger Keegan Sefton must have been as impressed as I was by Quick’s effort, because in round two he pulled off something similar in a rare highlight against Uni. Sefton collected a short ball from his no.8 off the back of a scrum inside the Souths 22m zone. The winger split the first line of defence and scooted down the right touch line. As the blindside winger approached, he put in a deft little chip kick, collected it on the bounce, skipped out of a would-be tackle from the fullback and raced to the corner. Simply a breathtaking example of free-flowing rugby. May it continue for the next four months!
Sunnybank’s halves combination is good… scarily good.
They’re the young halves combination that lit up Premier Rugby in 2016 and they’ve picked up where they left off this year.
Halfback Isaak Fines-Leilewasa and fly-half Jake Strachan look like they’ve taken every piece of learning from last season, studied and re-studied it over the off season and put it in to practice with immediate effect.
The youngsters, 21 and 20 respectively, have had a hand in 6 of Sunnybank’s 10 tries in the opening two games. They were potent in 2016, earning themselves some game time for the two Queensland NRC sides and on current form you’d think they’ll feature much more heavily in 2017. Fingers crossed for Sunnybank that these two remain injury free, because the Dragons will be breathing fire all season with them on the park.
The Tigers roaring again
Ok, so they’ve had one win and one bye in the first two rounds, but their one win was over the defending premiers. The men from Bottomley Park were disappointing in 2016, not finding their feet until the last quarter of the season, and that came off the back of a grand final appearance in 2015. Over the past four years, Easts have been crowned premiers in 2013, missed the finals in 2014, minor premiers and grand finalists in 2015, and third last in 2016; so, if the pattern proves true, the Tigers will be roaring again this season. They genuinely looked good against Brothers.
They have talisman centre Toby White back from injury and have recruited some talented players, including fly-half Logan Tibbets. I don’t think the one win is a false god – expect Easts to make winning a habit in 2017.