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NRL Telstra Premiership 2009

Next Gen: Another Storm hooker shines

Matt Russell NRL.com Wed, May 11, 2011 - 10:30 AM

Toyota Cup stars on the rise Copyright: Action Photographics

Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell analyses the week that was in the 2011 Toyota Cup competition.

Master and Apprentice

Melbourne had a couple of happy hookers as the club flew out of Brisbane last weekend with wins in both grades.

The performance of Cam Smith in a Test on Friday and then at club level on Saturday has been widely lauded.

Below him, Slade Griffin has struck rousing form for the Under 20s. Griffin scored the try that sealed the game for Melbourne’s Toyota Cup team, having set another up in the first half.

His two line breaks were complimented by a team-high 30 tackles and 143 running metres, second only to captain Kenny Bromwich. Commentator Brett Kimmorley nominated Griffin as his Man of the Match.

The performance came a fortnight after his three-try haul against the Warriors. Griffin doesn’t have to go far to find a hooker to model himself on. In Cameron Smith, he also finds a mentor who knows the Under 20s as a commentator.

Brave Broncos

The similarities between the NRL and Toyota Cup games last Saturday went further than the Melbourne hookers.

Weakened in both grades, the Broncos battled boldly to be a genuine chance late in both games.

The Under 20s lost Corey Norman, Dane Gagai and Dale Copley to first grade in the same week form fullback Lachlan Maranta was injured.

Down 28-10 at halftime, it was a long way back. But instead of capitulating, Brisbane closed to within four points, showing depth and resolve that delighted coach Kurt Richards.

Like NRL coach Anthony Griffin, Richards may have missed the premiership points but took plenty of optimism for later in the year.

Exchange Rates Good

Anthony Mullally is one of the reasons Brisbane’s Toyota Cup team is on track for a good season. The English forward is on exchange from the Widnes Vikings, who have been given a Super League license from next season. Mullally will long remember his first senior game with Widnes – a win against Saddleworth 88-0!

He hopes to create more good memories with the Broncos before heading home and is in good company with the Burgess brothers at South Sydney, Wests Tiger Gareth Ellis and Melbourne’s Gareth Widdop also proud poms.

Must Watch

The scene is set for a great Toyota Cup game in Melbourne on Saturday. Melbourne v Canberra. First against fifth.

Melbourne is on a six-game winning streak. Canberra warmed up with a 58-20 party against Manly. Ten tries, five in each half.

Ben Hampton v Sam Williams: two of the competition’s best halves. Matt McGahan v Chris Medcalf: the competition’s leading scorers with 94 points each.

Both sides have big, willing forwards and exciting backs.

Hope you can watch. Fox Sports 2 from 3pm EST Saturday.

Dr John #1

John Palavi did a fantastic job as a replacement captain for Ben Henry in the Warriors’ win against Gold Coast at Skilled Park.

The lock scored a try in each half for his first career double.

Palavi is much more than just a footballer and as an academic standout hopes to become a doctor.

Henry will play his 50th NYC game if he returns to captain the side against Newcastle on Sunday.

He is one man desperate to help the Warriors make it back to back Toyota Cup premierships after missing last year’s Grand Final because of an ankle injury.

To see if the Warriors can take another step join me and Brett Kimmorley to start  NRL Sunday on Fox Sports 2 from 11.30am EST.

Dr John #2

Warriors coach John Ackland is doing a fantastic job guiding the New Zealanders’ premiership defence despite a big turnover in players.

Sunday’s winning team included only four survivors from the 2010 Grand Final.

Still, the Warriors sit second with seven wins from nine games. Compare that to last year’s beaten grand finalists the Rabbitohs in 14th.

Auckland has a whole country to choose from but has long had a doctorate in spotting league talent and developing it.

More Like Titans

It was hard not to admire the fight in the Gold Coast Under 20s, who are still chasing their first win of 2011.

Against the in-form Warriors, many experts – including this one – feared a Mothers Day massacre. And it was on the cards when the visitors raced ahead 10-0.

Instead, the Titans bounced back to lead 16-10 and may have fought out the finish if not for three botched sets at a key period of the second half.

They went down 38-20 but not before players like Matt Srama and Sam Irwin impressed again.

A win will come soon. Maybe against Manly at Skilled Park on Monday.

Eye On The Tigers

That horrible rugby league cliché ‘under the radar’ probably applies to Wests Tigers in the Toyota Cup.

They had only one win in their first six games... but they have also only lost one of their last five games.

Draws against the Roosters and Titans mask the momentum they are starting to build. More recently they have consecutive wins against top eight rivals Brisbane and Canberra.

If Jacob Miller stays in Toyota Cup and continues to kick goals like he is – 21 from 22 – the Tigers might take some stopping.

They’ll be favourites to beat South Sydney on Saturday and make it three in a row.

Morgan’s Men

With Johnathan Thurston bound for State of Origin, Toyota Cup halfback Michael Morgan may well add to his four NRL games in coming weeks.

If so, he’s building nicely after two tries in Sunday’s win against the Dragons at Kogarah.

The Cowboys won 34-6, putting behind a meek display in their previous road game at nearby Shark Park. In fact, the early premiership favourites had won just one of their first three away games... and only just against Parramatta.

This week they play the Eels again but in Townsville, hoping to build on the Round 4 win 34-28.