No Sydney team has won the Toyota Cup and the Warriors and North Queensland can keep that record going as early as this weekend. They are favourites to beat Canterbury and Cronulla respectively to qualify for the Grand Final. Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell previews Week 3 of the finals, hoping they live up to the excitement of last weekend.
North Queensland (2) v Cronulla (3)
Sydney Football Stadium, Friday, September 23, 5.15pm EST.
Head to Head: One each this season. The Cowboys played one of their worst games when beaten by Cronulla 36-20 at Toyota Park in Round 7. They completed 18 of 35 sets in a performance ruined by 19 errors. They weren’t much better at home in Round 25 but still belted the Sharks 42-22 as fullback Wayne Ulugia had a day out.
Form: Rode roughshod over the Tigers 48-26 in Week 1 of the finals. The Cowboys scored with their first set and finished with eight tries. They showed skill, intent and purpose.
Why They Can Win: Experience is vital at this time of year. The starting team boasts 10 survivors from last year’s finals campaign. They have Ulugia and Moses Pangai set for their 72nd games – an NYC record. Halves Michael Parker-Walshe and Michael Morgan are up past 50 games. Captain Chris McLean has 63 to his name.
Where They Might Struggle: The Cowboys can have an off day. Five of their seven losses during the regular season came against teams that failed to make the Top 8.
Match Winner: Michael Parker-Walshe has scored 24 tries this year, including a hat-trick against the Tigers in Week 1. When he’s not scoring, he’s creating, which makes him a tricky prospect for the defence.
Why You Should Watch: Jason Taumalolo will play a lot of NRL is years to come. If you liked driving Tonka trucks over Matchbox cars in the sandpit, watching Jason in the NYC may take you back.
Form: After losing three in a row late in the season – each after giving up 40+ points – the Sharks are back! They’ve won three in a row against the Tigers, Dogs and Roosters. Most recently, they held the Roosters to the first 0-0 halftime score in Toyota Cup history and only four points for the game.
Why They Can Win: Completions. As the Sharks started this winning run, they completed at 87% against the Tigers. Now their last two second halves have been 22 from 23 and 16 from 18. Talk about suffocating.
Where They Might Struggle: What have two tough finals done to the Sharks in comparison to the Cowboys, who cruised through Week 1 to earn a week off?
Match Winner: Luke Pickerd scored his side’s only two tries on Friday night to take his 2011 tally to 21. The fullback injects himself in an attacking backline brilliantly. He’s such a busy runner, it’s as if each arm and leg has consumed a litre of red cordial before kickoff.
Why You Should Watch: Stewart Mills’s left arm fend, Chad Townsend’s kicking game and Tyson Frizell’s line-running. All three have tasted NRL and will build on that next year.
Warriors (1) v Canterbury (6)
AAMI Park, Melbourne, Saturday, September 24, 5.15pm EST.
Head to Head: The Warriors won their only meeting 22-14 at Mt Smart in Round 19. The Dogs led 14-0 at halftime before the Warriors hurried home with unanswered tries to Dylan Collier (2), Omar Slaimankhel and Donald Tony.
Form: The Warriors have won their last three games. After beating St George Illawarra 42-30 and North Queensland 28-20, they blitzed Newcastle 54-6 to start their finals campaign.
Why They Can Win: After a week off, the Warriors should be full strength for the first time in a month. It’s pretty simple – if you’re winning impressively with players out, what are you going to do with them all back!
Where They Might Struggle: The Warriors are premiership favourites and keep hearing how good they are. Will they start to believe the hype? Are they already thinking about the Grand Final? Take your eye off a late hurdle and you might just trip over it.
Match winner: Konrad Hurrell. In his first year of rugby league, Hurrell has gone from promising, to good, to even better. Against Newcastle in Week 1, he threw the last pass for four tries, scored three himself and saved one. He was worth eight tries.
Why You Should Watch: Marvel at the Warriors' second phase play. Big, strong and skilful, they go from being under pressure to scoring points unlike any team in the competition. If you’ve heard someone say “How good are the Warriors 20s?”, here’s your chance to have a look.
Form: The Dogs carried questionable form into the finals, having won only four of their last 11 games. Then they didn’t score a second-half point when beaten by Cronulla 28-12 in Week 1. They bounced back to lead Melbourne 16-0 on Saturday and held on bravely 22-20.
Why They Can Win: Punters said they were no chance against the Storm and look what happened. The upset result was a fantastic confidence boost, especially for the new-look halves combination of Jaline Graham and Moses Mbye.
Where They Might Struggle: What toll did Saturday take? It’s a massive day flying up and back on game day, not to mention a taxing game in very warm conditions at Suncorp Stadium. Injuries meant they played part of the game with 15 men. The Dogs were out on their feet for the final 10 minutes. If they fall flat against the Warriors, cricket season could come early.
Match winner: Sean Deaves. The winger has played all of his seven games this season on television and was quickly called TV Deaves by Michael Ennis. He’s lit up the box with five tries along the way. A talkative bundle of energy, Deaves is a good finisher who has made a starting spot his own. Not bad for a South Coast boy who had to trial just to join the club.
Why You Should Watch: Try not to get puffed watching Josh Jackson and Dale Finucane. They have played every game for the last two years and often 80 minutes a week. Quite simply, Canterbury wouldn’t be here without their two experienced forwards. On Saturday, they ran for nearly 200m each and combined for nearly 80 tackles.
...And Something Else
Two Toyota Cup products are set for a nervous week.
Corey Norman and Ben Hunt are in line to fill the biggest boots in rugby league if Darren Lockyer is ruled out of Friday’s final against Manly.
Chances are Norman and Hunt will spend most of the week not knowing whether they are in or out.
Norman has already played 20 NRL games and Hunt 40.
The latter helped Brisbane to the 2008 Toyota Cup Grand Final and was named Player of the Year.
Norman has played Toyota Cup for the last three seasons, scoring 18 tries in 51 NYC appearances.