The Australian National Rugby Championship (NRC) will break new ground in 2017 as Fiji enter the competition, looking to light up the tournament with their electrifying brand of Rugby.
The inclusion of Fiji is not the only change to the NRC this season, with the Vikings now under the direction of the Canberra-based Vikings Group and the Greater Sydney Rams under the direction of Eastwood Rugby Club management.
These off-season developments will add extra spice to the burgeoning competition which grew significantly last year, recording a 65% increase in overall viewership and 10% increase in crowd attendance.
True to the family-friendly approach of the competition, many NRC fixtures have been scheduled to align with local community Rugby events. It means sports fans around the country will have more opportunities than ever before to watch the nation’s best Rugby players in their own backyard, with certain Wallabies squad members to be released for NRC duty during The Rugby Championship to play alongside rising stars from Club Rugby.
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The season kicks off on Saturday, September 2 with Canberra Vikings and Queensland Country doing battle after the ACT Junior Rugby finals at Viking Park, Canberra. Hours later, Fiji will play their historic first NRC match against two-time Premiers, Brisbane City at Ballymore. The next day, 2016 Grand Finalists, NSW Country Eagles will take on Greater Sydney Rams at TG Milllner Oval, before the reigning champions, Perth Spirit host Melbourne Rising at McGillivray Oval.
The Sydney Rays kick off their season in a Round 2 Sydney derby with Greater Sydney Rams at Macquarie University, where the crowd will also be able to soak up all the action from the Women’s Aon Uni 7s Series. Round 2 will also host the first country game, as Queensland Country and Brisbane City square off in Noosa. Other regional locations set for NRC action in 2017 include Tamworth (NSW), Orange (NSW), Armidale (NSW), Goulburn (NSW) and Ipswich (QLD).
The Fijians will host their first match in Round 3, with fans from across the island nation set to converge on Lawaqa Park in the Rugby-mad city of Sigatoka for the clash with NSW Country Eagles.
The October long weekend will also be filled with wall-to-wall NRC action, with matches on four consecutive days book-ended by a Friday night clash in Canberra between the Vikings and Fiji, and a regional tussle between NSW Country Eagles and Sydney Rays in Goulburn on the public holiday Monday.
Round 6 will see the return of the Pasifika Round, where all teams will pay tribute to the significant role that Pasifika communities play in Australian Rugby. The showpiece match of this round will feature Greater Sydney Rams against Fiji at TG Millner, which will follow matches between the Australian and NZ Schoolboys, and Australian Barbarians v Fiji Schoolboys at the same venue.
In Round 7, Perth Spirit and NSW Country Eagles will return to the scene of their epic 2016 Grand Final clash for a much-anticipated re-match at Scully Park in Tamworth on Saturday, October 14.
Following last year’s popular format, most matches will be played at 1.00pm AEST or 3.00pm AEST on Saturdays and Sundays again in 2017, making NRC fixtures the perfect weekend outing for family and friends.
The fast-paced, competitive and high-scoring encounters synonymous with the competition are set to continue, following a 2016 season which delivered an average of almost 10 tries per game.
Ben Whitaker, ARU General Manager of High Performance said: “The NRC continues to grow and with the inclusion of Fiji the 2017 season will have an international flavour which will boost the appeal of the competition for fans even further.
“The quality of Rugby has improved dramatically from year to year and it is bound to go up another notch as the NRC enters its fourth season.
“Importantly, the NRC has proven to be a successful platform for player and coach development with graduation into Super Rugby positions at its highest in 2016. Both the players and coaches have overwhelmingly backed the competition, as have the fans, who watched the NRC in record numbers last season.”