Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell looks at the Toyota Cup team of the year and the exciting last week heading into the finals.
Congratulations to the 2011 Team of the Year listed below.
It represents the best of Generation Next and throws up any number of talking points. Here are 10.
1. The Warriors dominate with three selections plus the coach.
2. Five clubs have two selections – Brisbane, Melbourne, Canterbury, North Queensland and St George Illawarra.
3. Ten of the 16 clubs are represented. Missing out are Parramatta, Penrith, Manly, Gold Coast, Canberra and Newcastle.
4. Eight members of the team have played NRL this season – Gagai, Roberts, Miller, Baptiste, Taumalolo, McKinnon, Lafai, De Belin – three backs, four forwards.
5. Two players were in the 2010 Team of the Year – Gagai and Finucane.
6. Kenny Bromwich and Jesse Bromwich (2009) become the first brothers to make the team.
7. There are some good bloodlines in the team with famous links for Tyrone Peachey (David Peachey), Mahe Fonua (Taniela Tuiaki), Carlos Tuimavave (Evarn Tuimavave) and Jack De Belin (Fred De Belin – 1946 Balmain premiership winner).
8. Team members are also studying carpentry, engineering, podiatry, physical education, teaching, public speaking and machine operations.
9. They have big shoes to fill. This was the bench in 2009: Gareth Widdop, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Joel Romelo!
10. Fullback Omar Slaimankhel did more interviews in one hour than he’s done in his life! The son of Afghan refugees, who has scored 26 tries in 23 games this season, is a great advertisement for the Toyota Cup.
2011 Team of the Year
1 Omar Slaimankhel (Warriors), 2 Dane Gagai (Brisbane), 3 Konrad Hurrell (Warriors), 4 Mahe Fonua (Melbourne), 5 Tyrone Roberts (South Sydney), 6 Carlos Tuimavave (Warriors), 7 Jacob Miller (Wests Tigers), 8 Kane Evans (Roosters), 9 Kurt Baptiste (Brisbane), 10 Dale Finucane (Canterbury), 11 Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland), 12 Alex McKinnon (St George Illawarra), 13 Tyrone Peachey (Cronulla), 14 Kenny Bromwich (Melbourne), 15 Tim Lafai (Canterbury), 16 Jack De Belin (St George Illawarra), Kyle Feldt (North Queensland).
Like a broken record
The Roosters will set a new Toyota Cup record if they beat Melbourne at the Sydney Football Stadium on Sunday.
They downed Parramatta 40-10 to make it 10 in a row and equal the run of St George Illawarra in the first half of 2008.
Tautau Moga scored another three tries to take his tally to 18 from 12 games. He’s scored seven in his last two outings!
Unfortunately the 17-year-old has been suspended for the next two weeks because of a dangerous throw.
Roosters coach Jason Taylor and Parramatta opposite Matt Cameron are good friends from their days together at the Eels.
They often exchange texts and had this before their teams went head-to-head.
Cameron: “We’re playing the Roosters this week. Can you give us any tips?”
Taylor: “Your players should drop the ball as often as they can!”
It was actually 47 missed tackles that cruelled Parramatta.
Minor premiership, major achievement
The Warriors wrapped up the 2011 minor premiership in outstanding fashion against St George Illawarra on Sunday.
They made only three errors in winning 42-30. That is just the start of it.
The Warriors were without destructive back Konrad Hurrell and captain Ben Henry. They spent four hours delayed at the airport the previous afternoon. They played a team, boosted by Kyle Stanley, and desperate for a spot in the top eight.
The Warriors had no right to win but showed why they are raging favourites for back to back grand final victories.
Round 25 tossed up at least three more examples of Toyota Cup graduates starring at NRL level.
Jason Taumalolo rolled straight over the defence for two tries in North Queensland’s win against the Sharks.
Ben Barba defied... well everything really... to somehow plant the ball for a try in Canterbury’s comeback win against Newcastle.
Debutant Blake Austin was impressive in Penrith’s one-point win against Canberra.
A highlight of 2011 is that the only two clubs yet to play Toyota Cup finals are set to finish in the top eight.
The Sharks have been safe all season. The Knights have won five of their last seven games to surge into eighth.
Last Saturday, Newcastle played an early “final” and beat Canterbury 12-10, despite trailing for most of the match.
Man of the Match Sam Anderson had 20 runs for 214 metres and made 31 tackles. He also scored the try to get Newcastle going.
How about this for a Toyota Cup top four? Both countries participating in the NRL will be represented. All three Australian states participating in the NRL will be represented.
When it comes to the top eight, there are still five teams separated by one win between 8th and 12th.
What it means
Here a guide to what’s riding on this week’s final round.
Knights v Rabbitohs. A win will give Newcastle eighth. The Rabbitohs are already gone.
Dragons v Panthers. The winner would need Knights and Broncos to lose to lowly opposition to make finals.
Warriors v Cowboys. Will finish 1 and 2 regardless.
Sharks v Wests Tigers. Cronulla can finish anywhere between 3rd and 5th. Tigers can finish 6th or 7th.
Titans v Eels. Titans gone. Eels still technically a shot but more likely to land on the moon.
Bulldogs v Raiders. Dogs will run 6th or 7th. Raiders gone.
Broncos v Sea Eagles. Broncos need to win and rely on Rabbitohs to upset Knights to run 8th.
Roosters v Storm. Roosters can grab 4th if they win and Sharks lose. Win will give Storm 3rd but risk 4th if beaten.