While there were plenty of first round tries under the new rules for the National Rugby Championship, goalkickers held the key.
Try-fests dominated the opening round of the inaugural National Rugby Championship, but goal kickers showed they can still be the difference under the experimental scoring system.
The trial of three-point conversions, introduced alongside reductions to two points for penalty kicks and field goals, had the effect the Australian Rugby Union was hoping for, encouraging an onslaught of tries and attacking play.
But the aptitude of the goalkickers remained a potent factor on a wet weekend along the east coast, exemplified by surprise results as teams prodded their way into the provincial competition.
Despite scoring four tries apiece, the favoured Canberra Vikings suffered a shock 28-23 loss to the Perth Spirit on Saturday due to three missed conversions from Wallabies playmaker Christian Lealiifano.
The usually pinpoint kicker wasn’t the only one feeling the pinch, with Sydney Stars kicker Stuart Dunbar unsuccessful on all four conversion attempts in his team’s 45-20 loss to Brisbane City in the opening match.
“Goal kicking makes a massive difference (in the NRC) and that’s what’s frustrating me the most to be honest,” Lealiifano said.
“It sort of cost the team. I don’t know what’s going on.”
The Vikings were bolstered by 10 Brumbies squad members, but Perth’s grade players stepped up to the leveland Western Force Academy member Ammon Matuauto scored the match-winning try in the final minute.
The 50-metre line-break was Spirit’s second try in the closing 10 minutes of play.
The NSW Country Eagles also managed to find their combinations in the second-half, going into the break at 2-2 against the Greater Sydney Rams before capitalising on a hoard of handling errors to seal a 31-2 win on Saturday.
It was a case of testing the waters for the fresh franchises, with Brisbane also securing their win after a string of tries in the second half, having gone into halftime trailing the Stars 20-16 courtesy of an impressive two-try haul to promising centre Samu Kerevi.
In another high-scoring affair, Melbourne Rising’s big-game experience held strong in a 55-34 win over the North Harbour Rays on Sunday.
With 20 minutes remaining, the Rising opted to go for the try despite receiving a penalty in front of the posts, flyhalf Jack Debreczeni rewarding the choice with the try that gave his side the decisive lead.
The 13-try encounter was a fitting end to an entertaining and promising first round.