Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell analyses the week that was in the 2011 Toyota Cup competition.
The four representative teams in action on Friday night will contain 17 players who have come through Toyota Cup.
The biggest steps have been taken by Manly’s William Hopoate and Brisbane’s Gerard Beale.
This time last year, Hopoate had just scored two tries in a Toyota Cup loss to Souths and Beale had been at five-eighth for an Under 20’s demolition of Newcastle.
Hopoate, 19 next week, played three seasons of Toyota Cup for 18 tries in 33 games, including 11 tries in 15 starts last year.
Likewise, 20-year-old Beale spent three years in the NYC for eight tries in 31 games, including 11 starts last year.
Twelve months on, Hopoate is set for a State of Origin trial and Beale is part of a 19-man New Zealand squad.
It’s a bit like Kieran Foran and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who have previously gone from Toyota Cup to International selection in 12 months.
The scene is set for the match of the season when Brisbane host Melbourne on Saturday.
Melbourne is the outright leader after five straight wins, most recently 46-12 against Newcastle. The week before it was 40-10 against the Warriors. The Storm also put 40 on Manly and Gold Coast.
Perhaps more importantly, coach Dean Pay points to tough wins against Canterbury, Parramatta and Penrith, all by six points or less.
Brisbane surged to the top of the table with an early four-game winning streak but has dropped its last two, 30-16 against Wests Tigers and 26-6 against the Bulldogs.
The Canterbury result was the Broncos’ first loss at home and coach Kurt Richards will realise what a great opportunity it is to bounce straight back on Saturday.
Melbourne boasts a well-rounded team and Brisbane have some proven match-winners like Dane Gagai, Corey Norman and Kurt Baptiste.
Because of the abbreviated club round, the Under 20’s will fill the usual NRL slot of 5.30pm EST. Join myself and Brett Kimmorley for all the action from Suncorp Stadium as part of Super Saturday on Fox Sports 2.
All Foxed Up
Gold Coast coach Rod Patison summed it up well; "television hasn’t been real kind to us this year".
The Titans are yet to win a game in 2011 and have saved some of their worst for a national TV audience.
First we broadcast a 44-10 loss to Melbourne; then there was a 58-18 thumping in Canberra; last weekend a 30-10 failure against the Roosters.
One wonders what the Titans are in store for against the Warriors on Sunday... live on Fox Sports!
The Warriors are defending premiers and showed their potential by running in 10 tries against Penrith.
On paper it doesn’t look good for the home team but perhaps the Titans can build on last week’s second half. They trailed the Roosters 24-0 at the break and won the second period 10-6.
Coach Patison is working hard to tune his team and hoping they get a better reception soon.
Join myself and Simon Woolford from 11.30am EST on Sunday for all the action.
The Warriors Toyota Cup team is playing its part in some exciting times for New Zealand rugby league.
The defending premiers sit equal second behind Melbourne and look almost unbeatable at home. They’ve crushed Penrith, Roosters and St George Illawarra in their last three starts at Mount Smart.
Meanwhile, their NRL brothers have won four of their last five games to climb to ninth.
Last weekend the club’s NSW Cup team smashed Canterbury 54-24 in what was a top of the table affair.
A Test win against Australia on Friday will top a big week.
One club official confidently predicted a Melbourne/Wests Tigers Grand Final recently.
Melbourne looks the goods but the Tigers have been battling... or so it seems.
They’ve actually lost only one of their last five games, with two draws in that period.
Last weekend they won a thriller in Canberra 37-31.
How’s this for a game. Canberra led 12-10 at halftime but the Tigers pulled away 28-12 in the second half. Canberra levelled at 30-all and then kicked a field goal. Wests Tigers retaliated with their own one-pointer for 31-31. Just when the Tigers seemed set for their third draw of the season, Jay Bonnell scored the match-winner in the 79th minute.
They are two premiership points not a lot of other teams will get in Canberra.
Centre of Attention
Stewart Mills continued his impressive season for Cronulla in Round 8 with three more tries, taking his season tally to nine.
Mills starred in Cronulla’s 46-12 romp against South Sydney.
After two terrible years with injury, the centre is clearly enjoying regular footy again.
Big and strong with a crouched running style – a little like Colin Best – Mills has scored his tries in all manner of fashion... running into a hole, steamrolling defenders or with pace and a fend.
His form has helped the Sharks into the top four with six wins, the last four in a row.
He’s given NRL coach Shane Flanaghan plenty to think about during this week’s bye.
It’s not just Mills either. Luke Pickerd and Tyrone Peachey scored doubles against Souths, halfback Chad Townsend has landed 16 of his last 17 conversion attempts and Tyson Frizell continues to impress.
The Toyota Cup game at Kogarah on Sunday shapes as an interesting one.
North Queensland is back on the road after an embarrassing loss in the Shire a fortnight ago. The Cowboys beat Manly last weekend but have to win consistently on the road to justify their tag as premiership favourites.
St George Illawarra made it back to back wins for the first time this season by downing Parramatta 24-10. Games against North Queensland and Canterbury give the Dragons a great chance to prove they can be a force in this year’s competition.
Men Of The Moment
Each month Toyota Cup Programs Manager Tony McFadyen asks me for a team of the month. Over the first four weeks I opted for James Roberts, Chris Medcalf, Moses Pangai, Dale Copley, Omar Slaimankhel, Blake Austin, Sam Williams, Josh Ailaomai, Kurt Baptiste, Jake Finn, Tyson Frizell and Rory Brien.
Here’s my second Team of the Month, overlooking players who have made NRL in that time.
1. Lachlan Maranta (Brisbane) – A safe fullback who is scoring tries as well.
2. Wayne Ulugia (North Queensland) – Been good at fullback but can also play wing.
3. Stewart Mills (Cronulla) - Gets better each week after two years injured. Nine tries so far.
4. Konrad Hurrell (Warriors) - Strong centre who burst onto the scene in Round 5. Scored three tries in his first two games.
5. Marmin Barba (Parramatta) - Just as exciting as his brother. Four tries in the last three games.
6. Michael Parker-Walshe (Nth Qld) - Two tries v Gold Coast. Three tries v Canberra. Plenty of assists as well.
7. Chad Townsend (Cronulla) - Took the Sharks into the bye on a four game winning streak. Kicked 16 from 17 goal attempts last month.
8. Paul Vaughan (Canberra) – Skillful running prop who has collected six tries so far.
9. Matt Srama (Gold Coast) – 90 dummy half runs which is more than 30 than anyone else. Most of them effective.
10. Neil Begovich (Wests Tigers) - Hard working prop has helped Tigers lose just one of their last five.
11. Sam Lousi (Warriors) – Giant trouble for opposition defenders especially with an offload.
12. Kenny Bromwich (Melbourne) – Keeps taking Melbourne forward. Good offload.
13. Tyrone Peachey (Cronulla) – Most hitups in league. Skillful. Deceptively strong. Always busy.