NRC 2015 Season Comprehensive Preview: City, Spirit & Rays

All you need to know for the second season of the National Rugby Championships 2015.

The 9 captains pose for the NRC 2015 launch. (News Corp Australia)
The 9 captains pose for the NRC 2015 launch. (News Corp Australia)

The 2015 season of the National Rugby Championship kicks off tonight, featuring the defending champions Brisbane City and last years runners-up Perth Spirit in a grand final replay.

If you have any questions about this years competition or the sides competing, you’ve come to the right place.

The 2015 season will showcase 9 teams from around Australia, competing in 39 matches over 11 weeks.

Like the 2014 season, one live game will be aired lived on Fox Sports, however a new Fox initiative will see the remaining three games steamed live on FoxSports.com.au and on Apply TV through Fox Sports Now.

The inaugural experimental laws will remain the same this season, while an exciting new concept, a Ranfurly Shield style challenge based shield will debut this season. The shield has been named the Horan-Little Shield, after Wallabies centres Tim Horan and Jason Little. The shield holders will have to defend the shield at every home game and they have the option to accept a challenge when they face an option away from home. Once the holders have successfully defended the shield on two occasions, they will have to defend it for every succeeding game.

Brisbane City

2014 Statistics: 8 wins and 2 losses, 2014 champions.

Brisbane City look to go back to back in 2015, with a strong squad containing 6 Wallabies, 10 other Super Rugby players and 20 non-contracted players.

Brisbane were the inaugural NRC winners of 2015, can they do it again? (Getty Images)
Brisbane were the inaugural NRC winners of 2015, can they do it again?
(Getty Images)

Staff:

2014 Head Coach: Nick Stiles.

2015 Head Coach: Nick Stiles has been given the chance to defend his title as Brisbane City Head Coach in 2015. He has been signed as the Queensland Red’s Senior Assistant Coach for the next three years, a deal which also keeps him at the helm of Brisbane for the next three years.

Stiles states that the 2014 season was about “setting up a team from scratch” and developing the culture that comes with that process. He is joined by 2014 Attack Coach, Rob Seib (Sunnybank Coach) and Defence Coach, Shane Arnold (Australia Under 20s Coach) who maintain their roles as Stiles believes they “did such a great job in driving the key messages that [he] wanted through to the team”.

The Players:

Liam Gill has been anointed the role of captain for the 2015 NRC season, as he looks to make his mark on this years NRC from the flank.

Stiles has also appointed a leadership group for Brisbane, with hopes of developing the players as a group to supersede the Reds’ departing senior players. He told Green & Gold Rugby that like this, a lot of what he does for Brisbane, is also for the benefit of the Reds  “that’s a big driver, we want as much success as possible”.

Nick Frisby, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi and Sam Talaki have been handed the silver reigns as leaders for the 2015 season.

The squad looks like it will be hard to prevent from a title defence, with the likes of James O’Conner, Cadeyrn Neville, Chris Kurindrani and Jake McIntyre joining the impressive leadership group.

The scintillating prospect that Brisbane’s Wallabies Will Genia and Scott Higginbotham may take the field for City, due to being out of favour with Cheika, will be enough to get fans excited. The third and final Wallaby allocation is controversial Quade Cooper, who will likely feature in the Rugby World Cup squad announced on Friday.

Key Additions:

Alex Gibbon; The ex-Australian 7s player and Southern Districts allusive winger joins City off the back of a strong showing in this years Shute Shield.

Mika Tela; a devastating runner for Souths, who scored two tries in the win over Easts in this years Premier Grade grand final.

Cliff Tupou (the ‘Tongan Loki’?); younger brother of the Taniela the ‘Tongan Thor’, has put together a number of strong performances for Brothers throughout 2015.

Karmichael Hunt; his debut Super Rugby season with the Reds was a mixed bag, so he will be looking to impress throughout the NRC.

Expectations:

The exciting Brisbane side features 16 players from their successful 2014 campaign. They are widely considered the top title contenders and rightfully so.

The 2015 side will look to feature a devastating back line off the base of their dominant set-piece, in a similar fashion to last year.

Top 2 finish: I find it hard to go past City when looking at title contenders.

Perth Spirit

2014 Statistics: 4 wins and 6 losses, 2014 runners up

Perth Spirit will be looking to improve off the back of their fourth placed regular season finish and look to go one better and take home the premiership. The 2015 squad will feature 16 Western Force players, 16 Pindan Premier Grade players and Fijian 7s player Sevuloni Mocenacagi.

Perth Spirit. (Procarlos Sports Photography)
Perth Spirit. (Procarlos Sports Photography)

Staff:

2014 Head Coach: David Wessels and Kevin Foote

2015 Head Coach: Tai McIsaac

The Players:

McIsaac has stated that he believes players like Luke Burton will “take more [of] a leadership role in [the] young group” and that other players like Kane Koteka will blossom this year.

Captain Heath Tessmann will be joined by a number of other Western Force players and McIsaac is hoping that they “will help steer the side”, saying that “this is a great opportunity for them to take greater leadership and responsibility.”

A number of familiar faces will don the gold and black jersey throughout the season; Kyle Godwin, Junior Rasolea, Angus Cottrell and Ian Prior, just to name a few.

Key Additions:

Chris Alcock; making the move from the Greater Sydney Rams, he will look to use strengthen a strong backrow for the Perth based side.

Sevuloni Mocencagi; the Fijian 7s representative looks set to light up the NRC with his blistering pace on one wing.

Ryan Louwrens; will be sure to make his mark on his debut NRC season, having shown what he is capable of earlier this year, scoring two tries against the Waratahs for the Force.

Notable omissions:

Western Force players Pek Cowan, Matt Hodgson, Jono Lance, Alby Mathewson and Ben Tapuai are not in the Spirit’s squad for various reasons.

Expectations:

A mid-table finish seems likely again this season, either just scraping into the playoffs or missing out by one or two wins.

Fifth or sixth finish: If be surprised if the Spirit were to gain another grand final appearance.

North Harbour Rays

2014 Statistics: 2 wins, 2 draws and 4 losses, 2014 7th place holders.

Like the other NSW-based sides, the Rays had difficulty finding cohesion and consistency. The limited number of Super Rugby players in the Rays will yet again be tough to overcome, however a number of combinations will now be a year older, assisting them to hold their own in the tough competition.

Sam Ward in action for the North Harbour Rays. (Carl O. Peterson)
Sam Ward in action for the North Harbour Rays. (Carl O. Peterson)

Staff:

2014 Head Coach: Geoff Townsend

2015 Head Coach: Incumbent Geoff Townsend gets the nod as the Heach Coach and he will be joined by Julian Huxley as the attack coach and Damien Cummins as the defense coach.

The Players:

The Rays squad blends a number of Super Rugby players, with a large sum of Shute Shield players. The four first grade linked clubs will play a significant role for the North Harbour team, with 11 players from Manly and Warringah and six from the Gordon and Northern Suburbs sides.

If the Rays are to accomplish a successful season, it will be imperative for players like Sam Lane, Luke and Josh Holmes, who have Super Rugby experience, to stand up.

Players to watch:

Sam Ward; the bustling backrower has gone from strength to strength over the last 12 months. With the experience of an NRC season and another strong Shute Shield season under his belt, he is set to reek havoc on the competition.

Jack Dempsey; is another backrower who will be gaining attention throughout the 2015 NRC season. He made his Waratahs debut earlier this year and has shown a high work rate and willingness to stick his hand up for some action.

Expectations:

The team will likely benefit from another season under Townsend and be ready to expect a more fluent attacking game, with the addition of Huxley as attack coach. The boys from the northern suburbs will be lacking in Super Rugby experience, but they certainly wont be lacking in heart. Lets hope the Rays dont end up sticking their head in the sand throughout the 2015 season.

Bottom 3 finish: The Rays have a lot to overcome this year in comparison to sides like Brisbane City and I see them having a tough time making the playoffs.

What do you think the chances are for these three sides?

Written by Nelson Dale

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