The National Rugby Championship is back for a second season.
Defending premiers Brisbane City will host runners-up Perth Spirit at Ballymore on Thursday night, the North Harbour Rays will play Sydney Stars, Greater Sydney Rams will play NSW Country Eagles (Saturday August 22) and QLD Country plays Melbourne Rising (Sunday August 23). The Canberra Vikings will play their first game against NSW Country in round two.
There are a couple of interesting innovations for the second season.
Teams will compete for the Horan-Little Shield (named after Wallabies Tim Horan and Jason Little). The 2014 minor premiers Melbourne – holders of the Horan-Little Shield – are required to put it up for challenge at every home game and choose to accept challenges at away games. If Melbourne wins two consecutive home “challenge” the H-L Shield is up for challenge at every Rising match, regardless of venue.
An Australian Barbarians team – comprising of NRC players not contracted to Super Rugby teams – will fact the New Zealand Heartland XV in a two-match series in November. It’s a brilliant opportunity for the next generation.
FOX Sports will broadcast all 39 NRC games, comprising nine four-game rounds, two semis and the Grand Final. The Thursday night matches will be broadcast live, with the other games streamed live on the FOX Soorts website.
While the NRC (a reboot of the failed Australian Rugby Championship) doesn’t have the profile of the NRL, AFL or even the Big Bash League, it does offer a vital stepping stone between club rugby and international rugby.