Fox Sport's Toyota Cup commentator Matt Russell takes you through all the latest action in the Toyota Cup.
Origin-ally from the 20’s
The Toyota Cup community will cheer five of its graduates when Origin I rolls around.
Josh Dugan lit up the Toyota Cup in 2008 and ’09 as a brash fullback with bling in his ears and a bleached stripe in his hair (at the time covered by headgear). The Valley Dragons junior was part of the Raiders' Grand Final win in 2008. He scored a try and kicked four goals in the decider before making it impossible for David Furner to ignore him in mid-2009. Over his Toyota Cup career, Dugan scored 24 tries in 25 games.
Trent Merrin played 45 Toyota Cup games in the same period as St George Illawarra finished one game short of the Grand Final each year. It was clear from the outset the Alexandria Rovers junior had all the ingredients of a very good prop. His biggest asset was consistency, not just week to week but during a game. He’d deliver his final carry with the same intent as his first.
Tim Mannah played 17 games for Parramatta in 2008, which remains the only year the Eels have made the Toyota Cup finals. Mannah tasted defeat just four times that year. Another robust forward, Mannah is not in the Blues for his try-scoring. He scored once in his NYC career and has just one in three seasons of NRL as well.
Jamal Idris is back, this time as 18th man, after playing Toyota Cup over two seasons. His NYC stats include 16 games for nine tries... and a starring role in the ongoing nightmares of his former Under-20 defenders.
Queensland has only had the need to call on one graduate, Jharal Yow Yeh. His Toyota Cup career in 2008 and ’09 finished with 33 tries in 34 games. He scored two in the epic 2008 Grand Final where Canberra beat Brisbane in golden point.
Latest off the Production Line
Cronulla’s Stewart Mills is the latest Toyota Cup player to step up and star at NRL level.
Still 19, Mills was a prodigy in 2008 when he scored four tries in 13 NYC appearances before it all went wrong.
Serious injuries, in trial games against Manly, wiped him out for the next two seasons.
This year he returned with nine tries in seven games as a centre for the Sharks Under 20’s.
Not only did he show skill but real strength. It was on display again as he scored on debut against the Roosters last Sunday.
What a debut! A bust with his first touch... a try... sound defence... an upset win... and man of the match honours in the eyes of some.
Mills, along with the injured Nathan Gardner and Albert Kelly, were all stunning in their Toyota Cup careers. Sharks fans are hoping they provide the much needed potency to the backline for years to come.
Cronulla’s claim as the leading side in Sydney went to Canterbury after the Sharks Under 20’s lost to the Roosters 28-19.
After four straight wins and a bye, Cronulla seemed set for another victory when it led 13-4 at halftime and 19-10 with 10 minutes to play.
Instead the Roosters scored three late tries to Usaia O’Sullivan, Glenn Dumbrell and Henare wells to sit one point outside the Top 8.
The Sharks now face a tricky trip to Parramatta on Monday.
Here Come The Imposters
Earlier this season I called Parramatta’s Under 20’s imposters at the bottom of the table. Only because they were better than that!
Their four losses early in the season had been by skinny margins – 4, 10, 6 and 4 – with a fair chunk of bad luck thrown in.
Now they’ve won three of their last four, with Saturday’s upset of North Queensland in Townsville really turning heads.
The Cowboys have been early premiership favourites; had entered the game off consecutive big wins; had won seven of their last eight; and were at home, which is a massive boost in the climate of game-day travel for Toyota Cup teams.
But Parramatta won 29-16, with Marmin Barba scoring two second-half tries.
Ben’s young brother has now crossed eight times in eight games!
The Long Wait Is Over
Gold Coast’s Under 20’s broke their duck when they pipped Manly on Monday.
It was 15th v 16th. Manly was off a 58-20 loss to Canberra. Gold Coast came off a 38-20 defeat against the Warriors. One wag told me this game would be 0-0 or 60-58. Instead it was 34-32.
What a game. What a win for Gold Coast.
The Titans trailed 32-12 with 19 minutes to play but scored the last four tries.
Shaun Carney crossed in the corner with 10 seconds remaining, allowing Jackson Springer to slot the winning conversion from the sideline.
Prop Luke Page, one of his team’s best every week, scored two tries. So fitting. Suddenly the bye week won’t be so bad.
Climbing The Ladder
Dean Pay’s Melbourne team enters the bye this weekend after seven straight wins.
Mahe Fonua and Brayden Wiliame scored doubles in another strong performance. It needed to be, against a very brave Canberra team.
The Raiders entered the contest without strike players Sam Williams, Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii. On top of that, they lost debutant half Mitch Cornish to a broken jaw and had a string of others battered and bruised.
The tense contest finished 24-12, with Melbourne unable to relax at any stage.
When I checked on the condition of Cornish on Sunday morning, Canberra coach David Hamilton was full of praise for his team. Rarely is a coach so encouraged by his players after a loss.
Melbourne is out in front. The Warriors are defending premiers and running second. North Queensland was the bookies’ pick (and mine) earlier in the season.
As Brett Kimmorley watched the Warriors surge past Newcastle on Sunday, he nominated them as the ones to beat.
However, Melbourne fans will remember a 40-10 win against the Warriors in Round 7.
I still can’t ignore the Cowboys because of the quality of players backing up from last year’s strong campaign.
Even Canterbury has claims. They have a good coach in Andy Patmore, strong forwards like Dale Finucane and Josh Jackson, plus the exciting Aidan Sezer - whose boot proved the difference in a 16-14 win against St George Illawarra.
The Dogs play the Raiders in another attractive contest on Friday.
Putting The Boot In
As the Warriors rack up the tries in 2011, Dylan Collier sticks the boot in.
He kicked eight from eight against Newcastle, his second eight-goal haul of the season.
Can he become the first Warrior to land nine in one game?
This week the Warriors will be fancied to build another big score against the Rabbitohs.
You can see how big by watching Fox Sport 2 from 11.45 EST on Sunday.
Television viewers get their first look at the next generation of Tigers on Saturday when Fox Sports covers their game against Penrith.
The Tigers have won their last three games. In fact, they’ve only lost one of their last six, 24-22 against Souths.
Last Saturday they exacted revenge, bouncing the Bunnies 38-14 to stay in the Top 8.
Halfback Jacob Miller has already played NRL this year and is given plenty of opportunity by forwards Neil Begovich and the highly rated Matt Groat.
Backs Tim Simona, Limoni Kamuta and Marika Koroibete scored two tries each against South Sydney.
Penrith will fight hard in a Western Sydney derby, especially if their halves can get into the game.
Harry Seijka and Blake Austin are tipped to have a big future at the foot of the mountains.
Can they impress Phil Gould?
I hopes he’s watching Fox Sports Super Saturday. All the Toyota Cup action from 5.15pm EST.