Toyota Cup: Round 17 Preview
As the field turns for home in the Toyota Cup, you could throw a blanket over them. So bunched is the ladder, the top eight is anyone's guess. Who is going to start their winning run this weekend. Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell has his weekly look at the National Youth Competition.<br><br><b>Closest yet..</b><br><br>It's official, the third season of rugby league's National Youth Competition is the closest yet.<br><br>Heading into Round 17, only five points separates 2nd from 13th.<br><br>At the corresponding time last year the difference was 15 points and in 2008 it was 13 points.<br><br><b>All praise Parra..</b><br><br>The closeness of the competition was on show when last placed Parramatta upset mid-table Brisbane on Saturday.<br><br>TAB Sportsbet had the Broncos as $1.20 favourites and the Eels at $4.25 outsiders.<br><br>Brisbane boasted three players with NRL experience while Parramatta used five players who started the year in the Under 18 SG Ball competition.<br><br>Parramatta was on a 12-game losing streak, in which time Brisbane had celebrated seven wins.<br><br>I counted for nothing as the Eels came back from 14-4 down at halftime to win 26-20.<br><br>Has there been a bigger upset in Toyota Cup history?<br><br><b>But wait there's more..</b><br><br>Some of the individual performances from Parramatta's win are worthy of mention.<br><br>Goal-kicking five-eighth Jason Whebe floated two key conversions over late in the game - both of them after a lick of the lips and a smile. It's as if he's be tutored by Krisnan Inu, but I'm told he's spent more time with Luke Burt.<br><br>Playing fullback for the first time in his Toyota Cup career, Ken Sio collected Scott Sattler's "Young Gun" rating. He collected every kick smoothly and scored a good try as well.<br><br>Tireless second rower Pat O'Hanlon continued to immitate Nathan Hindmarsh - in looks and play - to earn NRL promotion this week<br><br>Rory Brien was signed from the Cowra Magpies as a back rower and clearly enjoys being back there. After being used extensively as a centre, he's been shifted to lock for the last couple of games, and pulled off 62 tackles, 22 more than anyone else on the field!<br><br>Can the Eels make it two in a row and beat the Warriors in Auckland on Sunday?<br><br><b>On the move..</b><br><br>The future of last year's Toyota Cup Player of the Year Beau Henry has finally been sorted out... and it's not at the Dragons.<br><br>He's off to Newcastle in 2011 as is promising Cronulla forward Kyle O'Donnell, the younger brother of North Queensland's Luke O'Donnell.<br><b><br>Smoke turns to fire..</b><br><br>Just when the Dragons' season seemed to be fizzling out, they've won back to back games for the first time this season.<br><br>A 42-6 win against Cronulla was followed by a 31-10 win against Wests Tigers.<br><br>Second rower Alex McKinnon has found a rich vein of form. He scored a try for New South Wales in the Under 18 win against Queensland; backed up with another against the Sharks; and crossed for the first and last against the Tigers.<br><br>On Monday the Dragons are back at Kogarah against the Panthers, who have won three in a row and five of their last seven.<br><br><b>Tigers' tough times..</b><br><br>The early competition leaders have fallen on tough times, losing three straight for only their third time in Toyota Cup history.<br><br>It gets even tougher without their leading scorer Jake Mullaney, who has a hamstring injury.<br><br>They face another tough ask this week, travelling to play a Brisbane side still hurting after its upset loss to Parramatta.<br><br><b>Get your home in order..</b><br><br>It's most unlike a Canberra side to be better on the road than at home but the Raiders Under 20's are 2/6 in the nation's capital and 6/8 away.<br><br>They sit fifth but would be much higher with a better record at Canberra Stadium.<br><br>They get a chance to "home renovation'' on Sunday when they host the Roosters.<br><br>The Raiders beaten them 25-24 in Sydney earlier this season on the back of a Sam Williams field goal in the 77th minute.<br><br>Now only one point separates them on the premiership table.<br><br>Both teams are off losses but have won four of their last six.<br><br>It shapes as a great contest.<br><br>Join myself and Simon Woolford for all the action on Fox Sports 2 from 11.15am this Sunday.<br><br><b>The rot is stopped..</b><br><br>North Queensland had its composure tested by the Sharks on Saturday.<br><br>After a winless month, the former competition leaders fell behind 8-0 against Cronulla and must have had some self doubt.<br><br>Instead they settled and scored 20 unanswered points to win.<br><br>It's their first win since that brawl with Manly, where a series of heavy suspensions threatened to de-rail their season.<br><br><b>White Pointer or Gummy Shark..</b><br><br>Time is running out for Cronulla's Under 20's, who have lost their last four games and slid from edge of the eight to 14th.<br><br>This week they host Canterbury at Bluetongue Stadium and should face a stern test.<br><br>The Dogs have won six of their last seven and victory on Saturday could see them into the top eight for the first time this season.<br><br>Canterbury suffered a significant setback when it lost Marty Taupau to suspension for a dangerous tackle.<br><br>Still they have exciting halves, size up front and a hard working back row.<br><br>I think they shape as a dark horse in the finals.<br><br>Can Cronulla prove me wrong?<br><br>The game will start a later than usual Super Saturday on Fox Sports. Join myself and Stuart Raper for all the action.