Thorn calls Vikings a Super Rugby team ahead of NRC final
James Slipper and James Darjaville. Photo: Dion GeorgopoulosQueensland Country coach Brad Thorn has called the Canberra Vikings “basically a Super Rugby team” ahead of the National Rugby Championship grand final in Canberra on Saturday.
The 59-Test All Black has thrown down the gauntlet for his men to upset a Vikings side playing in their second decider in three years, while Country are in the finals for the first time.
Thorn, who will coach the Queensland Reds next year, said the Vikings held an advantage as the only team feeding from the ACT Brumbies.
“They’re a very strong side, they’re one of those teams with Perth and Melbourne where they’re basically a Super Rugby team minus their Test players, so they’re always going to be tough,” Thorn said.
“Queensland is broken into two sides and New South Wales have three teams, they’re probably the most disadvantaged, so it’s a bit different but it’s a good challenge.”
Canberra came from behind to win late against Country in round one at Viking Park but Thorn backed his men to complete their fairytale season at the same ground.
“That was always going to be a tough game round one and this will be another tough one for us with them at home again… but we’ve earned the right to be here,” Thorn said.
“Their coach said they feel they’ve been the form team the whole competition but we’ll go there and give it our best effort and see what we can do.”
Country have only two established Super Rugby players in their squad but have managed to win more games this year than the past three seasons combined.
“For me it was a bit of a test case, can you turn a culture around, can you turn a team around, because these guys are used to being perennial losers,” Thorn said.
“So we invested in the culture of the group and wanted it to matter to the boys because when things matter you tend to commit and good things come.”
Vikings coach Tim Sampson wasn’t buying into the favourites tag but acknowledged his team had spoken about creating history in the capital.
“The form from both teams shows that they’re both capable of winning and that first round game was a very tight contest, so I wouldn’t be reading too much into that, it’s going to be another very tight contest,” Sampson said.
“You’ve got to embrace these moments and realise what you can get out of it, we did speak about creating history and it being something many people will look back on as this team being the first Vikings champions.
“The players are fully aware of that and you do just treat it as another week but it’s in the back of your mind what could happen.”
Wallabies and Country prop James Slipper will miss the clash with a fractured eye socket but remains confident his teammates have left their best until last.
Slipper praised Thorn as the catalyst behind Country’s turn in form and said it was the Vikings loss in the opening round which set the tone for the season.
“Thorny came in and put his marker down and the first thing we addressed was our defence, we’re a team that can score but we’re also a team that has let in a lot of tries,” Slipper said.
“We played Canberra in round one and lost but that kind of set our season up, after that game we put the marker down about our defence and the boys didn’t just talk about it, they made it happen.
“We’re going up against a Canberra team who have been one of the best teams in the comp for a couple of years… but learning from that loss has essentially got us here and hopefully we get them this time.”
NRC GRAND FINAL
Saturday: Canberra Vikings v Queensland Country at Viking Park, 7.30pm. Entry is free.
Canberra Vikings: 1. Faalelei Sione 2. Folau Faingaa 3. Les Leuluailii-Makin 4. Dean Oakman-Hunt 5. Darcy Swain 6. Rob Valetini 7. Tom Cusack (c) 8. Lolo Fakaosilea 9. Ryan Lonergan 10. Wharenui Hawera 11. Andrew Muirhead 12. James Dargaville 13. Len Ikitau 14. Ben Johnston 15. Tom Banks 16. Robbie Abel 17. Harry Lloyd 18. Max Bode 19. Michael Oakman-Hunt 20. Angus Allen 21. Pedro Rolando 22. Liam Moseley 23. Lausii Taliauli
Queensland Country: 1. Richie Asiata 2. Alex Mafi 3. Taniela Tupou 4. Harry Hockings 5. Angus Blyth 6. Angus Scott-Young 7. Tai Ford 8. Caleb Timu 9. James Tuttle 10.Hamish Stewart 11. Eto Nabuli 12. Duncan Paia’aua (c) 13. Chris Feauai-Sautia 14. Filipo Daugunu 15. Patrick James 16. Alex Casey 17. Gareth Ryan 18. Gavin Luka 19. Phil Potgieter 20. Ted Postal 21. Tate McDermott 22. Teti Tela 23. Tony Hunt