Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell takes his weekly look at the Toyota Cup.
Six of the best
The top six teams are on six competition points. Here are six reasons to follow their progress in coming weeks.
Canberra – The Raiders have the best attack in the competition after four weeks and seem to get better with each game. After a first-up loss to Cronulla (where they still scored 30 points) the Raiders have reached winning totals of 38, 40 and 58. They’ve scored 29 tries already. Add the fact Chris Medcalf has converted 25 of them, and the Green Machine is going to take some stopping.
Newcastle – The Knights have never made the Toyota Cup finals and coach Garth Brennan is driving his side to break that duck. They standout defensively, having given up more than 20 points just once - 24 against the highly fancied Cowboys in North Queensland. Last weekend, Newcastle kept St George Illawarra to nil in the second half!
Brisbane – So far the Broncos have shown plenty of spine. They have good players in key positions. Outside back Dane Gagai, five-eighth Corey Norman and hooker Kurt Baptiste will make sure Brisbane is hard to beat. Norman has looked particularly impressive, knowing the No.6 NRL jumper at Brisbane is about to be vacated.
Warriors – Don’t discount the defending premiers, despite they fact they’ve lost so many players from last year’s Grand Final win. Of the teams to use more than 10 Toyota Cup debutants so far this season, the Warriors are the highest ranked. They’ve blooded 13 newcomers but still find themselves in fourth. The rookies no doubt enjoy having Sosaia Feki, Carlos Tuimavave, Ben Henry and giant Sam Lousi leading the way.
Melbourne – Like the rest, the Storm has won three from four... AND six from seven if you incorporate the last three rounds of 2010. Melbourne started to come good at the end of last season and is building on that now. Coach Dean Pay, a Parramatta and Canterbury great, can call on all his premiership experience to help his young players. There is more help nearby as well with names like McGahan, Freeman, Sironen, Smith, Bromwich all able to call on famous relatives.
North Queensland – My tip as the team to beat and nothing has changed. They have so many quality survivors from last year’s finals team, they are $4.50 premiership favourites with TAB Sportsbet. While 10 teams have already used 10 or more Toyota Cup debutants, the Cowboys have had openings for only two. They were ambushed by Brisbane in Round 1 but haven’t lost since.
More on Canberra
The Raiders turned on one of the best attacking displays I’ve seen in Toyota Cup history last Saturday. My Fox Sports co-commentator Brett Kimmorley agreed.
It wasn’t just the 10 tries, but the way they were created and the discipline maintained for most of the match.
It was an historic performance. The Raiders equalled their biggest winning margin – 40 points. Jack Wighton joined Drury Low, Mark Nicholls and Justin Carney as the only Raiders to score four tries in a Toyota Cup game.
It’s a credit to coach David Hamilton and the club that has the production line which has carried a string of players from NYC to NRL shows no sign of stopping.
Good luck Penrith on Saturday.
Making a point
The 2011 competition had its first draw on Sunday and the combatants must have been cursing afterwards.
The Roosters’ 18 errors saw their completion rate at just 60%. Wests Tigers missed 29 tackles.
They finished 22-all with no Golden Point in the Under 20’s.
When it comes to draws, Canterbury and North Queensland lead the way with six each since the competition started in 2008.
Parramatta, smack bang in the middle of league heartland, has been a Toyota Cup under-achiever.
This year has continued a frustrating trend for coach Matt Cameron – narrow losses.
The Eels have fallen 20-16 (v Warriors), 26-16 (v Penrith) and 34-28 (v North Queensland). In between, a 43-18 win against Souths showed everyone what they are capable of.
This week is a great opportunity for Parramatta to prove it can be a force in 2011 by beating Melbourne in Melbourne.
As mentioned, the Storm is unbeaten at home this season and off a good win against Canterbury.
Coach Cameron might just look back on Round 5 as the one which defined the season.
Can Parra do it?
Find out on Fox Sports from 11.30am EST Sunday when Brett Kimmorley and I call all the action. The other Toyota Cup television game is from 3pm EST on Saturday when the winning Warriors host the Roosters.
Gold Coast coach Rod Patison has a long and successful coaching career with young rugby league players but is being tested in 2011.
The Titans are the only team in NRL and NYC yet to post a win.
Defensively they’ve been horrible, giving up 186 points in four games.
This week they face a Friday trip to North Queensland... which just happens to be the premiership favourite keen for a ‘big kill’.
It looks ugly but funny things happen in sport. Especially in the Toyota Cup!
Match of the round
Hopefully the Brisbane crowd will head to Suncorp Stadium early on Monday when the Broncos host Newcastle at Toyota Cup level.
Both teams are three from four and have played some fantastic attacking rugby league.
Both sides have big forwards, creative halves and exciting centres.
It shapes as a great contest.
Facts and figures
Tony McFadyen has joined the NRL as manager of Toyota Cup Welfare and Education.
It’s a vital part of the National Youth Competition, given only 10 per cent of participants are expected to forge long-term professional rugby league careers.
Tony had a background in strength and conditioning roles before moving into welfare and education. He spent time with the Roosters and Sharks before joining the governing body.
As part of his first monthly newsletter, Tony details the most popular tertiary course and trades for the current crop of Under 20’s.
It seems fitting the NRL is using Bon Jovi’s “Our House” this year. The most popular trades are carpentry and plumbing.