Super Rugby


Five things we learned about the 2017 NRC Champions

Bond University Queensland Country claimed the 2017 National Rugby Championship title with a 42-28 win over the Canberra Vikings in the nation’s capital on Saturday night.

Trailing 21-7 at the break, Country ran in five second half tries thanks to a double to captain Duncan Paia’aua and a hat-trick to recent St.George Queensland Reds’ signing Filipo Daugunu.

After finishing the 2016 season in last place, with just one win to their name, Country have remarkably turned their fortunes around under head coach Brad Thorn and his assistant Paul Carozza.

These are the five things we learned about the 2017 NRC champions:

1. Duncan slam dunks the decider

When inside centre Duncan Paia’aua was announced as Country skipper back in August, he made it clear he intended to adopt a lead-by-actions leadership style.

Throughout the season, the softly spoken skipper stepped up when it counted and his second-half on Saturday night was exactly what Country needed from their captain to come from behind and win.

With the scores locked up at 28-all and just over four minutes left on the clock, Country set for a five-metre scrum. Paia’aua hit a hard line from first receiver and burst through two defenders to slam the ball down for a vital try.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Paia’aua, he got sent to the sin bin for a dubious shoulder charge but he demanded the ball upon return and found the line with his first touch.

When Country needed him most, the 22-year-old showed them the way and the experience of leading a young squad to a title will be invaluable for Paia’aua moving forward.

Paia’aua claimed the Phil Waugh Medal as the Player of the Final for his efforts at inside centre.

Duncan Paia'aua breaks through two defenders to dot down for a vital try in the dying stages. Photo: QRU - Brendan Hertel

2. Filipo flies in for three

Country winger Filipo Daugunu saw little of the football in the opening 40 but made his presence felt with a scintillating second-half hat-trick.

Given a metre to work with, the fleet-footed Fijian set the wheels in motion for Country’s comeback with a brilliant finish to fend off two defenders and stay in touch.

His support play 10 minutes later to receive a Paia’aua offload and race away for Country’s third showed another dimension to Daugunu’s game.

Daugunu saved his best moment for the dying stages and demonstrated just why the Reds have signed him up for 2018 Super Rugby season when he claimed the final restart of the match, accelerated away and stepped the covering defence on his way to the try line.

The Wests Bulldogs product played eight matches for Country in 2017 and crossed for 13 tries to take out take out the competition’s leading try scorer award.

3. To the victors go the spoils

Behind Queensland Country’s flashy finishes, Number 8 Caleb Timu has toiled away in his first season of NRC and that was recognised on Saturday night when he claimed the competition’s MVP award.

Throughout the campaign, Timu provided defensive starch and a 190cm ball-carrying wrecking ball to Country’s attack.

A knee injury curtailed Timu’s return to rugby in 2016 so he’ll enjoy a full pre-season ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby season.

Timu and Paia’aua both received awards on the night but Country’s most experienced player James Tuttle must also be mentioned.

He has played every game for Country since the competition was introduced in 2014 and finally got reward on Saturday.

Tuttle finished the season as the competition’s leading point scorer, kicking more conversions than any other player and also led the competition for try assists.

Caleb Timu with his MPV award after the match. Photo: QRU - Brendan Hertel 

4. Carozza is Thorn’s rock

The fourth season of the NRC once again provided Queensland club rugby players with an opportunity at the next level.

Head coach Brad Thorn and assistant Paul Carozza have seemingly been able to get the best out of the club crop because the entire squad had to be used across the season.

Two years ago, Tai Ford was playing for the Bond Pirates on the Gold Coast so his rise through the pathway to seamlessly replace Liam Wright, who is on the spring tour with the Wallabies, is a testament to his hard work and Carozza and Thorn’s coaching-chemistry.

Brothers back Pat James was a regular at fullback for Country and did not look out of place as the only non-contracted member of the backline.

When injuries struck Country’s front row stocks, Carozza and Thorn called on clubland and Easts’ prop Richie Asiata, who stepped up the semi-final and the grand final and will be one to keep an eye on in the future.

While much of the public credit for turning this team around has gone to Thorn, his assistant Carozza is equally deserving of praise.

Carozza has 18 years of coaching experience, 94 caps for Queensland and 15 tests on the wing for Australia and he drew on all of that experience to shape Country’s attack which led the competition with 64 tries.

5. ‘The hard road’ continues for the Reds at Ballymore

Queensland Country came up with a motto for the team ‘the hard road’ and they had to take it on Saturday night to come from behind and win the trophy.

It epitomised their season and the belief system Thorn and Carozza set out to instil into a young Country squad.

As Thorn begins to plot the 2018 Super Rugby season, contracted Country players will look to continue ‘the hard road’ while McInnes Wilson Lawyers Brisbane City players will have to fight to demonstrate their value to Thorn.

The ‘the hard road’ for the Reds kicks off when their pre-season gets underway at the end of this month. 2018 Reds Memberships are now available at

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