Toyota Cup: Finals Preview

Canberra won the first Toyota Cup. Melbourne the second. Who will take this year's trophy? Eight teams remain, including first time finalists the Cowboys and Roosters. Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell has his weekly look at the National Youth Competition, including this week's finals.<br><br><b>What a finish...</b><br><br>Gold Coast left it until the final minute of their regular season to qualify for the finals.<br><br>Trailing the eighth placed Tigers by one premiership point heading into the final round, the Titans had to beat the Tigers in Round 26 to jump into eighth.<br><br>They trailed 14-0 and 18-8 before levelling at 18-all.<br><br>A draw would have seen the Tigers advance but in the 80th minute, Cody Walker finished a long-range try for the Gold Coast.<br><br>It was a wonderful try if you overlook the run that started it - where Japeth Vaoa had two knees and one hand on the ground in what seem a completed tackle but was allowed to play on.<br><br>The Tigers have a long off-season to curse that decision and the 25-18 defeat.<br><br><b>Home final...</b><br><br>Gold Coast can't believe it's luck.<br><br>A fortnight ago they were long odds to reach the finals, let alone play one at home.<br><br>The young Titans have their NRL team to thank for that.<br><br>The Toyota Cup principle is to match up as many NRL/NYC teams as possible AND to minimise travel for players, 98 per cent of whom have work, training or education commitments during the week.<br><br>The loser is South Sydney.<br><br>Despite winning the minor premiership, the Rabbitohs must travel to the home venue of the eighth ranked team with a short turn-around after last Sunday's win.<br>I think a better draw would have seen the Warriors v Sea Eagles game at Skilled Park on Friday and the Rabbitohs v Titans game at Kogarah on Sunday.<br><br>That way the two highly placed Warriors teams would have been aligned and the Rabbitohs would have played in their home city, close to their supporter base.<br><br>The Sea Eagles and Titans finished seventh and eighth after all... and I'm not convinced the Toyota Cup crowds will be much different under the current draw, especially with a 45 minute gap between the Under 20 games and NRL.<br><br><b>Hit the road boys...</b><br><br>South Sydney isn't the only top four team on the road - they all are!<br><br>The Warriors are on the Gold Coast, Canterbury is at Penrith and North Queensland is at the Sydney Football Stadium.<br><br>The Cowboys shape up against the Roosters for the second time in seven days.<br><br>Last week the Cowboys won 29-28, courtesy of a Michael Morgan field goal.<br><br>Will it be that close again?<br><br><b>Turn on the TV...</b><br><br>Fox Sports will broadcast every game of the finals series live, barring the Bulldogs v Raiders game on Saturday, which is being played while the NRL final at the SFS is underway.<br><br>(You can still catch that Under 20's fixture on Monday from 9.30am.)<br><br>On Friday, Scott Sattler joins me on air from 5pm at Skilled Park.<br><br>Saturday sees Stuart Raper as co-commentator at the Sydney Football Stadium from 3.45pm.<br><br>Brett Kimmorley gets his turn on Sunday at Kogarah from 1.15pm.<br><br>It's all on Fox Sports 2.<br><br><b>Let's go to the video tape...</b><br><br>For the first time in Toyota Cup history, video referees will be used during the finals.<br><br>It's a welcome safety net for a competition that still uses the single on-field official.<br><br>I'm sure last year's Grand Final winning try would have "gone upstairs".<br><br>Melbourne's Gareth Widdop raced through to ground a kick from Luke Kelly and beat Wests Tigers 24-22.<br><br>Even the video might not solve the problem.<br><br>I think it was a legal try, my producer does not.<br><br>Let's hope we're not arguing again during this year's finals.<br><br><b>Player of the Year...</b><br><br>Tariq Sims completed a great individual season when named the Toyota Cup Player of the Year at the Dally M night.<br><br>It's a good story.<br><br>He went to the Broncos as a winger but was told his future was in the forwards.<br><br>Sims added the necessary bulk and is now a strong, rangy runner, who is difficult to tackle.<br><br>The fact he played all 24 games and scored 14 tries is testament to his durability and skill.<br><br>He also broke the run of halfbacks after the first two awards went to Ben Hunt and Beau Henry.<br><br>It was almost another No.7 after the Roosters Brad Murray was beaten in the final round.<br><br>Club championship... and three from three.<br><br>Well done to the Warriors Under 20's, who sealed the New Zealander's first club championship by beating Parramatta.<br><br>It was a commanding performance from a team who dedicated the victory to the people of Christchurch, who were rocked by an earthquake earlier in the morning.<br><br>The Warriors and Raiders are the only clubs to have teams make the Toyota Cup finals every year, since it started in 2008.<br><br>Already people are talking up a possible <br><br><b>Who's eligible...</b><br><br>Players can compete in the Toyota Cup finals if they have played the majority (or same amount) of games in a second tier competition when compared to NRL.<br><br>A second tier competition is the Toyota Cup, NSW Cup or Queensland Cup.<br><br>The Warriors Bill Tupou has played most of his games in the NRL this year but is eligible for the 20's because his NRL is still alive.<br><br>If the Warriors are eliminated or earn a week off in the NRL, Bill won't be able to play Toyota Cup.<br><br>As soon as he plays two Toyota Cup finals, the fortunes of the NRL team become irrelevant.<br><br>Understand?<br><br><b>Breaking news #1...</b><br><br>From next season, players will have had to have turned 17 to play in the Toyota Cup.<br><br>In the first three years of the National Youth Competition, 21 players have appeared as 16-year-olds.<br><br><b>Breaking news #2...</b><br><br>The closest Toyota Cup yet has also been the oldest.<br><br>Fifty per cent of the participants have been 20 this year, up on last year's 43 per cent and 2008's 47 per cent.<br><br>Organisers are delighted by this, believing it illustrates an attitude from the clubs that the Toyota Cup is worthy of their fringe first graders.<br><br><b>Breaking news #3...</b><br><br>Players in the 2010 Toyota Cup Team of the Year are set to receive another boost.<br><br>It's understood they will be named as the Junior Kangaroos to play the Junior Kiwis.<br><br>Four positions will have to be filled, as four Kiwis made the Team of the Year.<br><br>The honour will even be extended to Coach of the Year Andy Patmore, who now becomes the Junior Kangaroos mentor.