Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell takes a look at all the big stories from the 2011 Toyota Cup competition.
No longer a wing with a prayer
Tariq Sims showed everyone why he was last season’s Toyota Cup Player of the Year with a standout performance in the North Queensland’s NRL win on Monday.
In his first season with the Cowboys after shifting from Brisbane, Sims topped his night with a powerful try where he simply bulldozed Melbourne’s Gareth Widdop.
Not bad for a man who joined the Broncos as a winger before being told to transform himself.
In a nice touch, the NSW South Coast junior even had a message for patrons at Mick Cronin’s Gerringong pub as he walked back to halfway after scoring.
Sims clearly enjoys playing with his older brother Ashton. Younger brother Korbin is part of Newcastle’s Toyota Cup team. Will the three brothers one day share the same NRL field?
Another Toyota Cup graduate Kalifa Faifai Loa looked good in his first NRL game with the Cowboys after moving from Wollongong.
Neil Henry will hope his on-field magic is as good as the tricks he shows off it!
Faifai Loa took great delight in mesmerizing my 7-year-old son for 20 minutes over summer with a series of disappearing match sticks.
A weekly look at the Dally M points underlines why clubs should take the Toyota Cup seriously.
Again NYC graduates featured prominently in Round 3 polling. Names like Chris Sandow, Gerard Beale, Albert Kelly, Blake Ferguson, Ben Barba and William Hopoate all got the attention of the Dally M judges.
Plenty of Points
Will the big scores keep coming in Round 4 of the Toyota Cup this weekend?
In Round 3 every game had a multiple try-scorer and three of them finished with trebles – Brisbane’s Dale Copley, Canberra’s Sami Sauiluma and Penrith’s Blake Austin.
Making a point... 24 of them
Blake Austin turned in one of the most dominant 40 minutes of rugby league I’ve seen at Toyota Cup level last Saturday.
The relaxed five-eighth showed why Penrith officials have him identified as a future NRL player, already drawing comparisons with Luke Lewis.
He scored three tries in 32 minutes, kicked for another, directed his side brilliantly and finished with 24 points, breaking Lachlan Coote’s Penrith NYC record of 22.
Austin hobbled off early and coach Alex Melville will want him back ASAP given they play the Broncos, Canberra and Melbourne over the next three weeks.
Footnote: Halfback Tim Dengate also looked very good and with Harry Seijka due back from injury soon, Alex Melville has a halves rotation to trouble any team in the competition.
Parramatta enjoyed its biggest points haul since Round 12, 2009 (52-4 v Cronulla) by belting South Sydney 43-18 last Friday.
It came after two narrow defeats to open the season.
Parramatta made the 2008 finals but have struggled for the last two years.
The famous rugby league nursery is long overdue for some success at NYC level.
Can they build on their win? Well, the Eels face a big test at home against North Queensland on Saturday.
The Cowboys are premiership favourites and showed why by inflicting Melbourne’s first loss on Monday, 36-12.
It leaves the Storm facing a fascinating game against Canterbury on Monday, having made it two from two at AAMI Park to start the season.
Who’d be a coach?
Spare a thought for Jason Taylor at the Roosters.
His boys lost in Round 1, 32-28 against Souths, after conceding two tries in the last 10 minutes.
On Sunday, his team scored in the last minute to pip Canterbury 22-20.
He might have thought he’d left that stress in the NRL.
The punter who had 340,000 reasons to ride Newcastle’s Under 20’s last weekend came up short when they won by four points and not the required margin of 8.5 plus.
In the end it took two late Newcastle tries to beat Manly at all!
The Sea Eagles are a favourite target for some of the big bets reported in this column.
In Round 1 last year, they were backed to beat Wests Tigers as one punter turned $50,000 into $100,000. In Round 3 last year, two punters included them in multis that stood to collect $90,000 and $150,000 only to have later legs let them down.
Toyota Cup games can be bizarre to say the least, especially early in a season.
Still the punters come. Glad it’s not my money!
Bounce back factor
So much is being made of the ‘BBF’ this season and the Toyota Cup is no different.
For the first time in NYC history, no team is unbeaten after three rounds. In fact 10 teams are on four premiership points.
Unfortunately for Manly and Gold Coast fans, there has been no bounce back for their Under 20’s, who are still chasing their first wins.
Manly has high hopes against Souths on Friday, after the Rabbitohs fell 43-18 against Parramatta.
The Titans – hard hit by injury – have a big job ahead against the Raiders, who are off big wins against Brisbane and Wests Tigers.
Join myself and Brett Kimmorley for all the action from Canberra as part of Super Saturday from 3pm EDT on Fox Sports 2.
The Sharks were within sight of a record Toyota Cup comeback on Saturday when they scored 20 points in 17 minutes to go from 36-12 to 36-32.
The record NYC return is 24 points (three times) and one more converted try would have seen Cronulla break that and steal victory.
Instead Penrith held on leaving Cronulla to curse two horrible mistakes. One gifted Penrith a try in the first minute, the other cost the Sharks a certain four-pointer late in the first half.
Victory would have seen Cronulla make it three straight wins in the same season for the first time.
They also won their first two games in 2009... but ended up running last. Surely history won’t repeat?
The Sharks play a “home” game in Taupo, New Zealand on Sunday. See all the Toyota Cup action from 9.45am EDT on Fox Sports 2 or on League TV if you can't watch it live.
Toyota Cup scores are also available live on NRL.com