Wallabies prop Tom Robertson will make his first appearance for the NSW Country Eagles this season when they tackle a Perth Spirit side bolstered by the inclusion of Wallaby squad members Tetera Faulkner, Billy Meakes and Curtis Rona at Scully Park on Saturday afternoon.
Robertson will pack down alongside Tamworth local and Eagles captain Paddy Ryan, and Brandon P-Amosa in what is a must win game for the Eagles if they want to feature in the National Rugby Championship finals.
“There’s a lot of pressure on this game,” Ryan admitted.
“I think we’re on the edge. We win this week and we are a chance to make finals.”
The Eagles sit on two wins and will be looking to bounce back from a narrow loss to Queensland Country last round. A slow start cost the Eagles, their defence also letting them down.
“Our defence has got to be our main improvement, leaking 34 points last week is not good enough,” Ryan said.
“We’ve got a lot of capability to score points quickly. We scored 31 points against the top team in the competition.”
One of the battles of the day as the Eagles look to avenge last year’s finals loss loss to the Spirit, could be between half-backs Jake Gordon (Eagles) and Michael Ruru (Spirit).
Eagles’ nine Gordon was the NRC Players’ Player last year. His Spirit counterpart has been one of the players of the tournament so far and was on Friday named in the Barbarians squad for their upcoming NSW Tour.
The Baa Baas squad also features Quirindi product Sam Carter, and Eagles number eight Sam Ward, who was voted in by the public.
After through injury missing out on playing the first time the NRC came to Tamworth, Ryan is excited about having the opportunity to play in his home-town again.
“I love it, it’s great. I can’t wait to get back there,” he said earlier in the week.
He also spoke about what a “good day of rugby” it is going to be, starting with a junior clinic at Pirates.
There will then be junior games at Scully Park from 10am, involving sides from around the region and as far afield as Walgett and Bourke.
Ryan loves the community involvement the NRC creates, acknowledging that their biggest asset, not just as a team but as a rugby community, is the players and the way they carry themselves.
The Spirit clash is the Eagles’ second game in the region this campaign, and Ryan is hoping for a similar turn-out to Armidale three weeks ago. He commented after the Eagles’ last gasp win that the Armidale crowd got them home.
“If it turns out like the Armidale crowd, we’ll be laughing,” he said.
The game kicks-off at 3pm and will also support the Leukemia Foundation.
NSW Country Eagles: 1 Paddy Ryan, 2 Brandon P-Amosa, 3 Tom Robertson, 4 Tom Staniforth, 5 Ryan McCauley, 6 Rohan O'Regan, 7 Maclean Jones, 8 Sam Ward, 9 Jake Gordon, 10 Tayler Adams, 11 Alex Gibbon, 12 Kyle Godwin, 13 Alex Newsome, 14 Seb Wileman, 15 Andrew Kellaway. Reserves – 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Sam Needs, 19 Tim Buchanan, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Nick Kellaway, 22 Tom Hill, 23 Henry Clunies-Ross.
Perth Spirit: 1 Pek Cowan, 2 Anaru Rangi, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 4 Matt Philip, 5 Onehunga Havili, 6 Tevin Ferris, 7 Kane Koteka, 8 Isi Naisrani, 9 Michael Ruru, 10 Ian Prior, 11 James Verity-Amm, 12 Bill Meakes, 13 Curtis Rona, 14. Chance Peni, 15 Marcel Brache. Reserves – 16 Sama Malolo, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Matt O’Brien, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Jooste, 22 Brendan Owen, 23 Clay Uyen.