Back in the inaugural season of the NRC, a largely unknown outside back began carving up opposition defences around the edges, scoring in the very first match ever played in the fledgling competition, and following that up throughout that first season.

The Sydney Stars knew who James Dargaville was, and Sydney University types had known about him for a while before that, too.

Well before that first NRC season was done, the Brumbies recognised the obvious talent and swooped, securing his signature in no time.

Dargaville debuted in Super Rugby the following season, and is now regularly held up as an early example of the NRC being that required stepping stone for club players to graduate to the professional game.

Three seasons on, and Dargaville is still carving up opposition defences, only now it’s in the red and white of the Canberra Vikings, and he’s doing in from midfield, rather than out on the wing.

But Dargaville has never forgotten where he was initially spotted, and the NRC – and the Stars – hold a special place in his heart.

“Yeah definitely. I think it’s a shame when the Stars are no longer around,” he told this week.

“A lot of the players have moved on to [NSW] Country Eagles and they’ve been playing some good footy over the last few seasons.”

“But yeah, I think the NRC’s been a really good addition to the Australian rugby calendar – I think there’s a good chance for some young guys to really put their hands up, and a couple of more experienced guys just to get some good minutes.”

Once the Brumbies were knocked out of the Super Rugby finals this season, Dargaville took the opportunity to get some good minutes himself, playing with his ACT Premier Rugby side the Gungahlin Eagles and even spending a fair bit of time playing at inside centre, having been confined to the Brumbies’ flanks.

But it wasn’t necessarily with an eye toward the NRC.

“No, not so much,” he confirmed.

“I think if Jordan Jackson-Hope had have been playing (in the NRC), he would’ve been playing 12 and I would have been playing 13.

But just the way that the season has gone unfortunately, Jordan missed out with ankle surgery.”

“But now I think, that was just more of a chance to get my hands on the ball after a little bit of an injury lay off. So yeah it was good fun having run around with the Gungahlin boys.”

And this is where it gets a bit confusing.

Well established as a winger and occasional outside centre at Super Rugby level, Dargaville has spent plenty of time playing at 12 over his career, partly the reason why the Brumbies saw him as another Pat McCabe-type of player.

So, what is his best position, then?

“I don’t really know myself,” he concedes.

“I think it depends a lot on the balance of the team. We struggled a little bit early with Robbo (Andrew Robinson), myself and Banksy being three ball carriers rather than ball players, which put a lot of pressure on Wharenui (Hawera).”

“We seem to have clicked the last few weeks now – our attack’s started to come together, and the forwards are really playing well and offloading, so it creates a lot for Futts (Hawera) to play off.”

Banks has been one of the form players of the NRC, but Dargaville’s combination with Robinson – who’s season ended just last week after a serious knee injury against Melbourne – has been a key contributor to the Vikings’ mid-season surge.

Dargaville said the change from wing to centre hasn’t needed much adjustment, however.

“I think it’s more combinations, that is the difficult thing,” he explains.

“I think it’s lucky that I’ve spent a lot of the year training with Futts – I know how he plays and the combinations are there, so we didn’t really have to work on that aspect of it.

“And Robbo is a great player, so he picked up on that very quickly.

“So, it’s not so much the position it’s just more the combinations and learning how to play outside people that’s the thing that takes time.”

The combinations were working well on Sunday, with the Vikings winning well against the Sydney Rays, and with Dargaville one of three Canberra players to register doubles.

“The Rays did really well for the first 10 minutes, really stretched us quite a bit and had us under the pump,” Dargaville said.

“I think that’s been the turning point of our season really, in the last few weeks since the Fiji game, that we’ve held really strong in our 22 under lots of pressure. In the first three rounds we were probably leaking a few easy tries early. 

“When they didn’t score against us, I think they dropped their heads a little bit and allowed us to play some good attacking rugby later on in that first half.

“That seems to be the case, the NRC at the moment is really momentum based. Once you get one or two tries they seem to pile up pretty quickly.”

Canberra captain Tom Cusack highlighted the Vikings’ fortunate position immediately after their big win over the Rays, saying that with the bye this coming weekend was really well timed.

Dargaville continued echoed those comments, outlining how the team will rest up while the other finals contenders rip into each other in round eight.

“The Brumbies boys, particularly, have been working pretty hard with Ben Serpell (Brumbies Athletic Performance Director) over the last month or two, so we’ve got a few kilometres in the legs,” he said.

“The boys have got the week off, I think they’ll enjoy that. Everyone’s darted off on a quick break. 

“I don’t think it’s good to have a week off leading into the finals, so just to have a week now, then reassemble next Monday and rip in for the Rams, a very good side still, as a tune up for hopefully a strong semi-final clash, which will be pretty exciting.”

Results this weekend could mean that Canberra remain in the top two even after the bye, which would set the final round up for the Vikings to play for a home final – their first since the 2015 season.

“I think we’ve definitely got the squad to win it,” Dargaville said of the team’s motivation from here.

“Even with our Wallabies boys heading off on tour and into camp now, I think the club boys have really stepped up.

“I think it’s just a matter of taking it week to week, hopefully get a win against the Rams and end up with a home semi.

“That’s very much the goal now, secure that top two spot and then it’s anyone’s game from there.”