An Afghani refugee, the grandson of a former international, eight players with NRL experience and the cousins of three NRL stars are among the members of the 2011 Toyota Cup Team of the Year announced at the Sydney Football Stadium today.

As rugby league prepares to farewell retiring icons including Darren Lockyer, Alan Tongue, Andrew Ryan, Preston Campbell and Mark Gasnier, 17 of the Toyota Cup’s brightest stars highlighted the game’s exciting future after stunning performances in a nationally televised competition unrivalled in Australian sport.

They include Warriors fullback Omar Slaimankhel, whose family fled war-torn Afghanistan to New Zealand and who has combined his Bachelor of Health Science (Podiatry) studies with an amazing strike-rate of 38 tries in just 35 Toyota Cup matches.

Sharks forward Tyrone Peachey, Storm centre Mahe Fonau and Warriors five-eighth Carlos Tuimavave – the cousins of former NRL stars David Peachey, Taniela Tuiaki and current Knights forward Evarn Tuimavave – also made the team, as did Dragons forward Jack De Belin, the grandson of Frederick De Belin who played in Balmain’s 1946 Grand Final win and who played eight Tests for the Kangaroos.

Broncos winger Dane Gagai – one of eight members of the team to have played NRL this season – and Bulldogs prop Dale Finucane are just the second and third players to twice earn selection in the Team of the Year, while Storm forward Kenneath Bromwich has mirrored the achievement of his brother Jesse, a member of the 2009 Team of the Year, the first brothers to achieve the feat.

They join a Toyota Cup honour roll that in four seasons has already produced nine internationals, five Origin representatives and a host of NRL stars including Chris Sandow, Kieran Foran, Tariq Sims, Ryan James, Tim Mannah, Jamal Idris, Ben Barba, Gareth Widdop, Trent Merrin, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jharal Yow Yeh, Tim Mannah, Ben Matulino, Shaun Fensom and Dylan Farrell.

The 2011 Toyota Cup Team of the Year is:

Position

Player

Club

Fullback

Omar Slaimankhel

Warriors

Wing*

Dane Gagai

Brisbane Broncos

Centre

Konrad Hurrell

Warriors

Centre

Mahe Fonua

Melbourne Storm

Wing*

James Roberts

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Five-eighth

Carlos Tuimavave

Warriors

Halfback*

Jacob Miller

Wests Tigers

Prop

Kane Evans

Sydney Roosters

Hooker*

Kurt Baptiste

Brisbane Broncos

Prop

Dale Finucane

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

Second-Row*

Jason Taumalolo

North Queensland Cowboys

Second-Row*

Alex McKinnon

St George-Illawarra Dragons

Lock

Tyrone Peachey

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Interchange

Kenneath Bromwich

Melbourne Storm

Interchange*

Tim Lafai

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

Interchange*

Jack De Belin

St George-Illawarra Dragons

Interchange

Kyle Feldt

North Queensland Cowboys

Coach

John Ackland

Warriors

(* Have played NRL this season)

This year’s side also features a cross-section of the education and workplace opportunities that 98% of players in the Toyota Cup undertake as part of the competition’s ‘NO WORK NO STUDY NO PLAY’ policy, including studies in carpentry, engineering, podiatry, physical education, teaching, public speaking and machine operating.

“If you look at the graduates from this competition and the mark they are now making in the NRL and in the state league competitions, then you can begin to realise the incredible success of the Toyota Cup development pathway,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop said.

“It has transformed the way aspiring players prepare for the world of professional sport, it remains the only elite junior competition with national television exposure and it is showcasing the exciting future stars of the game.

“Congratulations to all the players on their selection in the Team of the Year and to Toyota and Fox Sports for their support of a competition that provides a comprehensive development pathway that is unrivalled in Australian sport.”

Toyota Sale Manager, Eastern Region, Mr Vin Naidoo, added: “Toyota is thrilled to once again be the driving force in supporting the stepping stone for Australia's rising Rugby League stars as the Toyota Cup continues to foster a new generation of multi-skilled players prepared both for life both on and off the field.

“By encouraging young players to balance training, education and career opportunities, we believe they will be better poised to extend their personal successes beyond their playing days. 

“Congratulations to the 17 talented young footballers who have been named today as members of the 2011 Toyota Cup Team of the Year. We applaud your achievements and look forward to following your successful careers.”

Another 55 current and former Toyota Cup players have made their NRL debuts this season, taking to 217 the number that has reached the NRL in four years.

Each member of the 2011 Toyota Cup Team of the Year will receive a $2,000 education grant in addition to the grants clubs already receive for education and workplace training. They also receive a Toyota Cup Team of the Year plaque and polo shirt.

The 2011 Toyota Cup Player of The Year will be named during Fox Sports’ live telecast of next Tuesday’s (September 6) Dally M Awards at Sydney’s Royal Hall of Industries.

Mr Soames Treffry, Director FOX SPORTS Channels, said: “Toyota Cup is an outstanding product.

“You’ve only got to look at how some of last year’s crop have progressed in 2011. Guys like Tariq Sims, Dylan Farrell and Sam Williams have all become regular first graders and have made an impact at the top level.

“FOX SPORTS has enabled fans to follow these youngsters through their transition to the NRL and we are proud to be a broadcaster that supports Rugby League from its foundations up.

“While we are watching the stars of tomorrow make their mark each weekend, it’s also been great to see some of the current NRL stars performing behind the microphone during our Toyota Cup broadcasts.

“Having the insights of representative players such as Cameron Smith, Michael Ennis, and Jamie Soward has significantly added to our Toyota Cup coverage.”

The 2010 Team of the Year:
1 Dane Gagai (Broncos); 2 Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa (Dragons); 3 Dylan Farrell (Rabbitohs); 4 Siuatonga Likiliki (Warriors); 5 Josh Mansour (Rabbitohs); 6 Aidan Sezer (Bulldogs); 7 Sam Williams (Raiders); 8 Tariq Sims (Broncos); 9 James Segeyaro (Cowboys); 10 Andrew Clayton (Broncos); 11 Ryan James (Titans); 12 Sam Mataora (Raiders); 13 Ethan Cook (Knights); Interchange: Brad Murray (Roosters); Dale Finucane (Bulldogs); Matt Hyland (Wests Tigers); Lama Tasi (Sea Eagles). Coach Andrew Patmore (Bulldogs).

The 2009 Team of the Year:
1 Malcolm Webster (Rabbitohs); 2 Joe Vickery (Dragons); 3 Drury Low (Raiders); 4 Taioalo Vaivai (Rabbitohs); 5  Siuatonga Likiliki (Warriors); 6 Robert Lui (Wests Tigers); 7 Beau Henry (Dragons); 8 Jesse Bromwich (Storm); 9 Travis Waddell (Raiders); 10; Trent Merrin (Dragons); 11 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sea Eagles); 12 Jake Marketo (Dragons); 13 Jamie Buhrer (Sea Eagles); Interchange Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles); Joel Romelo (Panthers); Gareth Widdop (Storm); Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles).

The 2008 Team of the Year:
1 Lachlan Coote (Panthers); 2 Jharal Yow Yeh (Broncos); 3 Justin Carney (Raiders); 4 Tony Williams (Eels); 5 Kevin Gordon (Titans); 6 Ben Barba (Bulldogs); 7 Chris Sandow (Rabbitohs); 8 Russell Packer (Warriors); 9 Masada Iosefa (Panthers); 10 John Kite (Bulldogs); 11 Joel Thompson (Raiders), 12 Daniel Harrison (Bulldogs); 13 Shaun Fensom (Raiders); Interchange: Ben Hunt (Broncos); Matt Mundine (Dragons); Jordan Rapana (Titans); Ben Matulino (Warriors).

Toyota Cup graduates to have played for either Australia, New Zealand or England:
Gareth Widdop (England), Jharal Yow Yeh (Australia), Jamal Idris (Australia), Kieran Foran (NZ), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (NZ), Ben Matulino (NZ), Matt Duffie (NZ), Sam McKendry (NZ), Kevin Locke (NZ) (Please note Locke has not played but has an official NZ playing number for being part of their Four Nations tour party).

State of Origin reps:
Jharal Yow Yeh (Qld), Trent Merrin (NSW), Josh Dugan (NSW), Tim Mannah (NSW), Jamal Idris (NSW).