Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell analyses the week that was in the 2011 Toyota Cup competition.
A few weeks ago nearly every game had a Toyota Cup graduate polling Dally M points.
This week, Manly’s Under 20’s graduates scored a clean sweep.
As the Sea Eagles downed the Warriors 20-10 in Saturday’s NRL contest, Keiran Foran, William Hopoate and Jamie Buhrer claimed the 3, 2 and 1.
In 2009, all were part of the Manly Toyota Cup team that won the minor premiership under coach David Penna. Also in the team were Daly Cherry-Evans, now Rooster Jared Waerea-Hargreaves... and Magnus Stromquist.
Stromquist might be Manly’s next player to move from Toyota Cup to NRL.
The club’s 2010 Toyota Cup Player of the Year is leading by example as captain in 2011.
It’s not uncommon for the Asquith junior to play the full 80 minutes; his numbers are outstanding; and his coach can’t remember him missing a game.
On Saturday he made 51 tackles and had 17 runs for 137 metres.
There’s still one thing missing. He hasn’t scored a try in 42 NYC appearances.
Maybe he’ll cross on Friday night when Manly hosts the Panthers.
The Panthers need a road win on Friday after dropping two in a row at home, the most recent in heartbreaking fashion.
Penrith led at halftime and for most of the second half against the Storm before the final eight minutes featured three tries.
First Ben Hampton scored and Matt McGahan converted for Melbourne to take a 22-18 advantage. Then Blake Austin crossed and Harry Seijka added the extras for Penrith to hit back 24-22. Then in the 80th minute, on the last tackle of the final set, Ben Hampton sent Eddie Faaumasili over in the corner for a 26-24 win.
Melbourne made it three in a row and importantly earnt their first premiership points on the road for 2011.
They head back home for the Warriors next.
Making a point
The Toyota Cup’s second draw for the season was more a point gained than a point lost for Gold Coast.
It was the Titans first premiership point after five heavy losses to start the season.
Their best defensive display of the year saw them finish 14-all with Wests Tigers after leading 10-4 and 14-10.
The next step for the Titans is to get two points at Parramatta on Sunday.
It was the Tigers second draw in three weeks after a 22-22 deadlock against the Roosters in Round 4.
...And another point
The Toyota Cup’s third draw of the season came on Monday night when South Sydney and St George Illawarra finished 22-22.
Rabbitohs fullback James Roberts scored two more tries, taking his season tally to 11. Yes 11!
The 18-year-old exploded onto the scene late last year and has now earned his NRL debut, bumping veteran Rhys Wesser out of the Rabbitohs' No.1 jersey for this weekend's clash with the Bulldogs.
If he can carry over his Toyota Cup form into first grade he could be a real star of the future.
Another close call
Few coaches will be more satisfied than Parramatta’s Matt Cameron this week.
His Toyota Cup Eels had already lost three games by six points or less – against top teams the Warriors, Cowboys and Melbourne.
On Friday they held off Canterbury 28-26 despite trailing 10-0 in the first half.
The Eels led 28-16 after 66 minutes and held on as the Dogs rattled home.
There must have been some anxious moments for Cameron. Not again.
Instead they have a great chance to go back to back against the Titans at Parramatta on Sunday.
Match of the round
There is a four-way tie for the lead after the first six weeks of the Toyota Cup and two of those teams are head-to-head in Round 7.
Melbourne and the Warriors will meet in the final NYC game of the Easter/Anzac weekend on Monday evening.
Both sides were below their best in Round 6 but still came away with victories and will no doubt lift for this contest.
As a club, Melbourne is unbeaten at home in eight games this year, with it’s Under 20’s opening with big scores against Manly and Gold Coast before surviving tight finishes against Canterbury and Parramatta.
The Warriors are on a four-game winning streak, with the first three in that sequence coming in New Zealand before a confidence boosting road win against Manly on Saturday.
The other two teams on 10 points are Brisbane and North Queensland. More on them shortly.
Once were Warriors... and still are!
The Warriors' tilt at back to back premierships is right on track.
Here are some observations from their win against Manly.
The man born in Kalu Khurd, Pakistan, Omar Slaimankhel, needed less than five minutes to continue his love affair with Brookvale Oval by scoring the opening try.
Last year, he scored four tries in one game at the ground. That day he was on a wing and he looks right at home as a fullback now. He’s scored six tries in six games in 2011 and 18 from 18 since making his debut.
At 198cm and 118kg, Sam Lousi is not only big – very big – he also brings some skill to the table.
His offloads are good and if he uses them judiciously, they’ll create a stack of tries.
Lousi, captain Ben Henry and five-eighth Carlos Tuimavave give the Warriors three Junior Kiwis.
Centres James Te Pou and Konrad Hurrell are fast, hard-running and skilful. Te Pou’s final pass for the final try on Saturday is worth watching again and again.
The bench is the best in the competition. Havili, Paasi, Fotofili and Taukeiaho have had massive games for two weeks in a row.
Here’s the killer. There are four premiership players still to come back from injury – Sosaia Feki, Henry Chan-Ting, Sebastine Ikahihifo and Sirovai Makatoa.
Battle of Queensland
Brisbane and North Queensland are the other pacesetters on 10 points.
The Broncos – joint leaders in NYC and NRL – were too good for the Roosters 32-8 and will start favourites on Friday against the Tigers, who have just the one win so far.
North Queensland pumped high-flying Canberra 42-12 as five-eighth Michael Parker-Walshe scored three tries in the first half. The Cowboys are the hottest in the league and can make it six straight wins if they beat Cronulla on Saturday.
The two Queensland front runners met in Round 1 with the Cowboys ambushed by Brisbane 46-24.
They meet again in Round 23 but this time in Townsville.
On the box
Fox Sports viewers get to see the Cowboys for the first time this season when they travel to Shark Park on Saturday.
While North Queensland has the most experienced team in the Toyota Cup, the Sharks are the top ranked Sydney team and on track to make the finals for the first time.
Nathan Gardner and Albert Kelly are already starring at NRL level and could be joined by some more Toyota Cup graduates at the Sharks.
Tyson Frizell is a big threat on Cronulla’s right hand side and fellow backrower Tyrone Peachey pops up everywhere with deceptive strength and obvious skill. In the backs, Stewart Mills scored three tries against Newcastle with force and determination.
If you can’t get to Shark Park, join Cam Smith and I on Fox Sports 2 from 3pm EST.
On Sunday, it’s Canberra at home to Newcastle from 11.30am EST. Join Brett Kimmorley and myself, again on Fox Sports 2.
The Raiders and Knights lost their halfbacks – Sam Williams and Tyrone Roberts – to NRL in Round 6 and were both beaten.