Australia's second version of the National Rugby Championship (NRC) was launched with two initiatives unveiled to increase talkability around the competition.
Nine teams playing 39 games across 22 venues all over Australia in 11 weeks of fast-moving, free-flowing rugby that will excite fans while also giving them a glimpse at some of the game’s future stars.
The 2015 National Rugby Championship was officially launched on Wednesday at Ballymore Stadium – a curtain-raiser for the opening game of the season when 2014 champions Brisbane City take on Perth Spirit in a re-match of last year’s Grand Final.
The launch was attended by players from each of the nine competing clubs – Brisbane City, Queensland Country, Sydney Stars, NSW Country Eagles, North Harbour Rays, Perth Spirit, Melbourne Rising, Canberra Vikings and the Greater Sydney Rams.
At the official launch, the Australian Rugby Union also announced the introduction of two exciting initiatives:
The Horan-Little Shield
Named after Wallaby legends and great mates Tim Horan and Jason Little and in consultation with Green and Gold Rugby, the Horan-Little Shield will be played for during the nine-week regular season. 2014 NRC minor premiers, Melbourne Rising, will be in possession of the Horan-Little Shield for the start of the campaign having gone undefeated for the regular season last year.
Melbourne Rising has confirmed the Horan-Little Shield will be put up for grabs in their opening clash when they take on Queensland Country at the Gold Coast this coming Sunday.
How the Horan-Little Shield will work:
Whoever holds the Horan-Little Shield is required to put it up for challenge at every home fixture.
For away fixtures, holders of the Horan-Little Shield may choose to accept challenges but are not obligated to do so.
In the event the holder wins two consecutive home games, or challenges, the Shield is then automatically up for challenge for each subsequent game the holder plays whether home or away.
The team holding the Shield at the end of the regular season (or finals game if they choose to play for the Shield then) will be the only team whose name is engraved on the Shield.
Having been undefeated in the regular season of the 2014 Buildcorp NRC, the Melbourne Rising are designated inaugural Shield Holders and are awarded one Horan-Little Shield win.
It was also announced today that an Australian Barbarians side – chosen from players playing in the NRC who were not contracted to Super Rugby franchises in 2015 – will take on a New Zealand Heartland XV in November.
The two-match series against a Heartland XV, selected from uncontracted Super Rugby players playing in the Heartland Championship, will take place at Levin Domain, Manawatu-Wanganui and Cooks Gardens, Wanganui on New Zealand’s North Island. Dates and kick-off times to be confirmed.
“These new initiatives for season two of the Buildcorp NRC will generate significant interest and excitement around the competition," said ARU General Manager – Professional Rugby Rob Clarke,.
"The Horan-Little Shield will give clubs another opportunity to win and show off some silverware while I’m sure the composition of the Australian Barbarians squad to tour New Zealand will be the source of plenty of discussion in living rooms, online and in pubs and clubs across the country.”
The Australian Rugby Union also confirmed that the law variations successfully introduced in 2014 will remain unchanged for the forthcoming season.
Round One of the 2015 National Rugby Championship kicks off on Thursday 20 August when Brisbane City take on Perth Spirit at Ballymore Stadium (kick off 19:30 local (09:30 GMT)).
The North Harbour Rays entertain the Sydney Stars on Saturday 22 August (kick off 15:00 local (05:00 GMT) at Manly Oval while the NSW Country Eagles travel to Merrylands RSL Park to take on the Greater Sydney Rams (kick off 15:00 local (05:00 GMT).
Queensland Country play the Melbourne Rising in the final game of the round on Sunday 23 August at Bond University on the Gold Coast (kick off 15:30 local (05:30 GMT)