Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell previews Week 1 of the Toyota Cup finals.
North Queensland (2) v (7) Wests Tigers.
Friday, September 9, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, 5.15pm.
Head To Head. Their only meeting in 2011 went to North Queensland 32-18 in Round 19. Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt scored two tries and kicked 4/6.
Form: Since the bye in Round 17, North Queensland has won six of nine games. The Cowboys led the Warriors 20-8 in New Zealand last Saturday before losing 28-20. They’ll be keen for another crack but will have to earn that right.
Why They Can Win: The Cowboys have a stack of experience – if that’s the right word in an Under 20’s competition? Ten players from the team that reached Week 2 of last year’s finals are still around and are no doubt driven to improve on last year.
The Question Mark: The Cowboys have struggled for consistency, twice losing to the team running last – Manly and Gold Coast. Plus the North Queenslanders have lost three of their four television games, with the only win being a 2-point thriller against Canberra. From here on, every game is live on Fox Sports.
Match Winner: Michael Parker-Walshe. The five-eighth has scored 21 tries this season and dished off 21 try assists – second in the league in both categories.
Form: Wests Tigers have won only three of their last eight, against battlers Manly, Parramatta and Gold Coast. On Saturday they were beaten by Cronulla 26-10.
Why They Can Win: With Keith Galloway and Todd Payton due back in NRL on Friday, Matt Groat and Ben Murdoch-Masila might find themselves back in the Toyota Cup forward pack. Names like Tedesco and Koroibete can deliver a stack of excitement in the backline.
The Question Mark: Can the Tigers score enough points? In recent weeks they’ve been kept to 10 by the Roosters, 0 against the Dragons, 6 against the Panthers and 10 against the Sharks.
Match Winner: Jacob Miller. On his night, the halfback has the kicking game to get Wests Tigers out of trouble or set up points. His goal-kicking percentage of 79% is the best in the competition.
Warriors (1) v (8) Newcastle.
Saturday, September 10, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, 4pm.
Head To Head. The Knights haven’t got close to Warriors in two meetings this season – beaten 48-28 in Round 10 at Newcastle and 44-8 in Round 23 at Mt Smart.
Form: The Warriors have only dropped four games all season, with every loss coming in Australia. One of those defeats was in Round 24 against Penrith 32-12 and a fortnight before that they had a 26-all draw with Brisbane.
Why They Can Win: Why can’t they win! Their ability to offload is unparalleled. They boast the competition’s leading off-loader (Lousi), tryscorer (Slaimankhel), line-breaker (Hurrell), tackle-breaker (Hurrell) and pointscorer (Collier).
The Question Mark: How bad are the injuries to Ben Henry, John Palavi, Omar Slaimankhel and Carlos Tuimavave?
Match Winner: Take your pick. Fullback Omar Slaimankhel hasn’t scored 26 tries this season by fluke. Centre Konrad Hurrell has had a barnstorming season in his first year of rugby league.
Form: The Knights won six of their last eight games to steal the last playoff position. They have won “both ways” in the last fortnight – coming from behind in a tough thriller against Canterbury 12-10 and with a romp against South Sydney 46-16.
Why They Can Win: They have nothing to lose. Reaching the finals for the first time in Toyota Cup history was the goal in 2011. Anything now is a bonus.
The Question Mark: What mental demons remain from two heavy losses against the Warriors this season – the latest just four weeks ago? Do they really believe they can win?
Match Winner: Josh Ailaomai. The prop has to have the game of his life to negate the size, strength and skill of the Warriors forwards.
Cronulla (3) v (6) Canterbury.
Saturday, September 10, Sydney Football Stadium, 6pm.
Head To Head. Canterbury has won both meetings against Cronulla in 2011 – 30-26 in Round 15 and 48-16 in Round 23.
Form: The Sharks snapped a worrying three-game losing streak – all by big margins – to down Wests Tigers 26-10 on Saturday.
Why They Can Win: The chance to give a struggling club some much-needed September success is a massive motivation for the boys from Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. Money is a problem at the Sharks but spirit isn’t.
The Question Mark: Have the Sharks timed their run? They won seven games straight before falling in a hole near the finals as they gave up 48 points against Newcastle, 44 against Penrith and 42 against St George Illawarra.
Match Winner: Tyrone Peachey. Just like Uncle David, Tyrone has a happy knack of “turning up” exactly when he’s needed. The X-factor plays in jumper No.13 but it could be 6, 4, 1... anything really.
Form: After a five-game winning streak mid-season, the Dogs have won only four of their last 11. They needed a late surge to beat Canberra on Sunday.
Why They Can Win: Andy Patmore becomes the first Toyota Cup coach to 100 games this week. He knows Under 20’s football as well as anyone and will make sure his side is ready to go.
The Question Mark: Can their young halves get the job done in pressure games and against more experienced opposition? Jaline Graham and Moses Mbye played SG Ball earlier this season and have played only three Toyota Cup games each.
Match Winner: Dale Finucane. He captains the side from lock, having not missed a game for the last two years (along with good mate Josh Jackson). A work-a-holic who will take his team forward all game and came up with the crucial try again Canberra on Sunday.
Melbourne (4) v (5) Roosters
Sunday, September 11, AAMI Park, Melbourne, 1.30pm.
Head To Head. Melbourne won in Round 14 28-20. The Roosters won on Sunday 28-14.
Form: Melbourne has won only twice in its last six games, against lowly ranked Gold Coast 22-20 and Manly 40-0.
Why They Can Win: Melbourne has won nine from 12 at home this season, including seven in a row to start the season. Worryingly they have lost their last two at AAMI though.
The Question Mark: Were they foxing? The Storm conceded five tries in the first 20 minutes against Melbourne on Sunday night. At 28-0,it was game over almost before it began. Can they do better at AAMI Park.
Match Winner: Mahe Fonua. The centre made the Toyota Cup Team of the Year as a proud product of Victorian Rugby League. A ball of muscle in the centres, Fonua has scored 17 tries in 21 games including three doubles.
Form: The hottest team in the competition is on a Toyota Cup record winning streak – 12 games and counting!
Why They Can Win: Not only are the Roosters unbeaten since Wednesday June 15 (yes, Wednesday), they’ve only once been kept under 26 points in that time. In fact they’ve scored 40+ five times on this winning run.
The Question Mark: How long can the streak continue? Does every win take you closer to a loss? Oh, and the last team to beat the Roosters...
Match Winner: With try-scoring freak Tautau Moga suspended for the first week of finals, Ethan Lowe is the man. He’s scored 10 tries in his last nine games. It’s been some turnaround for a player who scored once in his first 12 games of 2011.