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Matt Hyland feels three solid years of playing in the Toyota Cup competition has prepared him well for the rigours of the NRL.

Season 2011 marks the first year of open senior football for Hyland, a hardworking lock forward who established himself as a fine young player in the making after three seasons in the U20s.

Hyland played 11 matches in the inaugural Toyota Cup season in 2008 in which the Wests Tigers missed the finals. In 2009, Hyland and prop Andrew Fifita were the only players to play all 28 matches for Wests Tigers, who were controversially beaten in the Grand Final by Melbourne Storm.

It was the 2009 season in which Hyland really stamped himself as a player with an enormous work rate, averaging 26 tackles a game. He was rewarded for his efforts by being promoted to the Wests Tigers NRL full-time squad in 2010.

“I thought I had a pretty consistent season in 2010. One area I worked hard on was my attack and I felt more comfortable as the season progressed because I was given the opportunity to use the ball more,’’ Hyland said.

“Having played in the Toyota Cup for the past three years, you get used to the grind of playing 26 rounds and it has certainly helped me prepare mentally for first grade.

“There are no easy games in the Toyota Cup whereas in the junior competitions (Harold Matthews and SG Ball), there was always a team you knew you were going to beat but it is not like that in the 20s as it is so unpredictable.”

Hyland also showed his leadership skills as captain under coach Grant Jones over the past two seasons. He said injuries to key players and an unsettled halves combination were reasons behind Wests Tigers failing to make the U20s finals last year.

“We should have went better than we did. We had a great start, better than we did the previous year, but we didn’t go on with it,’’ Hyland reflected.

“Losing (full-back and goal-kicker) Jake Mullaney to an ongoing hamstring injury really hurt. We always had our half-backs injured and never had a set halves combination. That’s what probably killed us in the end.

“In saying that, we also saw some good young players come through. Ben Murdoch-Masila was a revelation and played in the NRL finals. I thought second-rower Shaun Spence played consistent footy and the younger boys in Mason Talolua and Ethan Tafili were good. Prop Neil Begovich was strong every week. He is a player to watch out for.”

With the comfort of the Toyota Cup now gone, Hyland will continue to apply his trade in the NSW Cup competition whilst continuing to learn under the coaching of Tim Sheens. Hyland is hoping his hard work over summer will see Sheens select him for an NRL trial.

“Playing NRL is obviously a very big step up from the Toyota Cup but I want to make that step,’’ Hyland added.