Queensland Country upset Vikings in NRC grand final
Queensland Country completed its fairytale season with a come-from-behind 42-28 victory against the Canberra Vikings to win their first National Rugby Championship on Saturday night.
Country won just five games in their first three seasons but under the tutelage of newly appointed Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn they pulled off a remarkable turnaround to lift the trophy.
It was a zero-to-hero effort from Country skipper and recent Wallabies revelation Duncan Paia’aua who was sin-binned in the 66th-minute, before coming back on to score the match-winner.
The scores were locked at 28-28 with seven minutes to play when tempers boiled over and a scuffle broke out on half way.
It proved a title-deciding moment as the ensuing penalty went to Country and set up the Queenslanders match-winning try through Paia’aua in the 76th-minute.
Thorn described the victory as the best of his young coaching career and praised the gutsy effort from his men who had been written off at the start of the season.
“To win this competition from the bottom of the ladder… I couldn’t be prouder of them and it wasn’t the rugby I was proud of it was what was under their chest and their mindset,” Thorn said.
“You can have all the game plans in the world but it doesn’t mean anything unless you’ve got the mindset and to come back from two tries down, a man down and away from home, you couldn’t write a better script.
“I was lucky to be part of some stuff in my playing career but it’s a different ball game as a coach… it’s just an incredible feeling, I’m so proud of the boys.”
It marked a devastating finish for the minor premiers and Vikings’ coach Tim Sampson said there were still plenty of positives to take from a great season.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow… there were some key moments in that second half and some areas in our game where we dropped off from where we’ve been really strong all tournament,” Sampson said.
“The achievement to contest a grand final, looking back they’re a pretty special group of young men, and I hope they realise how hard it is to get to a grand final to start with and they should be proud.
“They say you’ve got to lose one to win one but unfortunately we’ve lost two now and it’s a long time between drinks until 2018 season but hopefully we’re up there and I’ll back the boys to come back stronger.”
It was an instant classic in the capital as the Vikings showed great resilience early to see off an onslaught of attack, before running in three tries of their own to hold a 21-7 half-time lead.
The Vikings couldn’t repeat their defensive heroics in the second stanza as Country piled on three tries in the first 15 minutes after the break to hold a 28-21 lead.
The game was turned on its head when Paia’aua was yellow carded for a high tackle and the Vikings struck immediately to lock the scores up on 68 minutes.
Canberra couldn’t find the killer blow as the Country skipper returned to the field to break Vikings hearts late, before Filipo Daugunu completed his hat-trick in the dying minutes.
AT A GLANCE:
Queensland Country 42 (Tuttle, Paia’aua 2, Daugunu 3 tries; Tuttle 6 cons) beat Canberra Vikings 28 (Dargaville, Lloyd, Valetini, Taliauli tries; Hawera 4 cons)