Will He Succeed?

This time last year, William Hopoate had just made his NRL debut – a Round 13 loss to Brisbane 22-6.

Despite having just turned 18, Hopoate was in his third year as a Toyota Cup player, where he would finish 2010 with 11 tries in 15 games. It was an improvement on his 2009 haul of four tries in 15 games. He had signalled his potential as a 16-year-old in 2008 with three tries in three NYC outings.

Hopoate and Manly used the Toyota Cup as a key part in his rugby league development and now, less than a year after his last Under 20’s game, Hopoate will run onto rugby league’s greatest stage – State of Origin.

The selection continues his intriguing story – the son of a famous rugby league bad-boy, who attracted big money offers from numerous clubs before opting out of the sport for a two-year Mormon Mission.

His Manly Toyota Cup coach David Penna will watch next Wednesday’s game with interest.

"I was surprised with the position he was named in but I’m in no doubt he’ll do a good job," Penna told NRL.com.

"He loves a challenge. He won’t be nervous. I’m sure he won’t let anybody down."

Penna, who played 134 first grade games at Parramatta and South Sydney, is building an impressive coaching career.
He inspired Manly’s Under 20’s to the 2009 Minor Premiership and last year’s finals.

His Toyota Cup teams have provided current NRL players Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jamie Buhrer, Michael Oldfield, Darcy Lussick, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Lama Tasi... and Hopoate.

“That’s why you coach. You hope to have some sort of influence... one or two NRL players that you are really proud of. I’m proud of them all,’’ Penna said.

“The Toyota Cup has its positives and negatives, but look at so many NRL sides and the players they are using, you can’t say the Toyota Cup isn’t working.’’

Who’s Next

The Origin period tests most clubs.

The best representative players are missing at a time where injuries are mounting.

It’s ‘peak period’ for Toyota Cup graduates.

Already this season, an impressive list of players have stepped up; Dane Gagai, Sam Williams, Tim Lafai, Jacob Miller, Jacob Loko, Tyrone Roberts, James Roberts, Nathan Massey, Josh  Papalii, Stewart Mills, Chad Townsend, Kurt Baptiste, Matt Srama and more.

Here are the players vying to be the next in line for each club:
Brisbane – Mitchell Frei. Big and skilful, and a goal-kicking backrower.
Canberra – Shannon Boyd. Maybe too young this season but making all the right move at prop.
Canterbury – Josh Jackson, Dale Finucane. Two hard-working forwards.
Cronulla – Tyson Frizell. Strike backrower. Runs a great line. Always tests tacklers.
Gold Coast – Luke Page. Tireless prop. Aggressive. Working hard on his defence.
Manly – Magnus Stromquist. Leads the struggling Sea Eagles as prop.
Melbourne – Mahe Fonua. A flying nugget in the centres.
Newcastle – Ethan Cook, Matt Herman. Two skillful backrowers. Cook’s passing game is impressive.
North Queensland – Jason Taumalolo. Big forward but agile. Showed a spectacular step to score last weekend.
Parramatta – Pat O’Hanlon. Think Nathan Hindmarsh. Lock Rory Brien and back Marmin Barba are also good.
Penrith – Harry Seijka, Blake Austin. Talented halves. Just need greater consistency.
St George Illawarra – Alex McKinnon, Nathan Green. Hard-running red-heads.
South Sydney – Adrian Ha’angana. Backrow survivor from last year’s Grand Final side.
Roosters – Ethan Lowe. Backrower with a good offload.
Warriors – Take your pick. Honestly, there are a stack of contenders!
Tigers – Jacob Miller, Matt Groat, Tim Simona already. Maybe Pat Politoni or Neil Begovich next.

Ranking Jordan

It was great to see Jordan Rankin continue his 2011 comeback on Saturday.

The Titans fullback scored two tries and then landed a 42m field goal to beat Penrith 11-10.

It came a week after he’d scored three tries against Canterbury.

Rankin had gone the first eight games of the season without a try and had landed only 7 of 18 conversion attempts.

The last fortnight might be the confidence boost he needs to finish his last Toyota Cup season strongly.

With his 16-year-old NRL debut now a distant memory, Rankin (64) needs only eight more games to pass St George Illawarra’s Thomas Hancock (71) as the most capped player in Toyota Cup history.

Rankin has 394 Toyota Cup points and – if he starts kicking goals – might catch Jake Mullaney’s record 472.

Making The Call

It was great to have Jamie Soward in the commentary box on Saturday.

Less than 24 hours are he played in a 14-all draw with Parramatta, he provided expert thoughts on the Toyota Cup field-goal shootout between the Titans and Panthers.

Then on Sunday, Braith Anasta was the co-caller as one movement saw Canberra botch a try at one end and North Queensland score the winner at the other end. It was very similar to the James Maloney/BJ Leilua play in Braith’s game the night before.

This week Brett Kimmorley joins me on Saturday as Manly host North Queensland at Brookvale. On Sunday, Simon Woolford steps in as Brisbane host Canberra. Both games live and exclusive on Fox Sports 2.

Happy Tricks

Two players celebrated three-try efforts last weekend – Warriors captain and second rower Ben Henry and Storm winger Junior Tonumaipea.

They came as the competition leaders piled on the points to stay on a Round 16 collision course – the Warriors 50-6 against the Roosters and Melbourne 40-16 against Souths.

Facts and Figures

The latest newsletter by Toyota Cup Programs Manager Tony McFadyen details some interesting facts and figures.
Up until Round 10, 453 Toyota Cup players had been used. This season is set to go past last year’s total of 531 players used.

Up until Round 10, Gold Coast had used the most players – 34. North Queensland has used the fewest – 22.

Given The Noddy

Brett Kimmorley has named his Toyota Cup Team of the Month. Here it is:
1. Omar Slaimankhal (Warriors), 2. Konrad Hurrell (Warriors), 3. Mahe Fonua (Storm), 4. Tim Simona (Tigers), 5. Marmin Barba (Eels), 6. Jake Walsh (Cronulla), 7. Jacob Miller (Tigers), 8. Dale Finucane (Bulldogs), 9. Siliva Havili (Warriors), 10. Neil Begovich (Tigers), 11. Tyson Frizell (Sharks), 12. Sam Lousi (Warriors), 13. Krys Freeman (Storm).