What a pillar the Toyota Cup has been for the Warriors, who have three teams engaged on Grand Final Day.
The Warriors are the only club to have never missed the NYC finals, where they are $1.30 favourites to make it back-to-back premierships on Sunday.
The New Zealand Toyota Cup team has not only attracted players to the code but fed them through the grades. Graduates like Locke, Tupou, Johnson, Packer, Matulino and Taylor are now in the NRL Grand Final squad.
Others, such as Penehe, Fisiiahi , Mara, Robinson, John, Lousi and Gavet, have moved onto the Auckland Vulcans NSW Cup Grand Final team.
More are now with rival NRL squads.
If the New Zealanders don’t sweep all three grades on Sunday, maybe they’ll get another crack in coming seasons.
It was a joy to watch Shaun Johnson at AAMI Park on Saturday night. His 15th NRL game looked more like the 215th.
Johnson and the highly impressive Elijah Taylor can add an NRL Grand Final win to their 2010 Toyota Cup premiership.
In 2009, Manly finished as Toyota Cup minor premier with Daly Cherry-Evans steering the team (which also included Foran, Hopoate, Buhrer and Lussick).
Now the two halfbacks are ‘the new Benji Marshall’ and the 2011 NRL Rookie of the Year.
They’ve only met once in any competition... Round 2 of the 2009 Toyota Cup season. Manly won 52-4.
Look how similar their Toyota Cup careers were:
Daly Cherry-Evans – NYC 2008, 2009. 47 games, 29 wins, 1 draw. 24 tries, 72 goals, 6 field goals, 246 points.
Shaun Johnson – NYC 2009, 2010. 45 games, 26 wins, 2 draws. 25 tries, 153 goals, 6 field goals, 412 points.
The Warriors Under 20’s qualified for Sunday’s Toyota Cup Grand Final with one of the most devastating performances in NYC history.
64-0. In a finals match. Against the best defensive team in the competition during the regular season. Without their leading try-scorer Omar Slaimankhel.
Are they the best Toyota Cup team ever? You can build a compelling case.
Saturday shattered too many records to list here. However the 64 points was ‘only’ enough to equal the highest score in a Toyota Cup game, which had been reached four times previously.
Of the many highlights, the best had to be Sam Lousi’s try on the 5th tackle, involving 12 sets of hands, repeated desperate off-loads and sensational pick-ups.
An excited commentator called it the try of the decade.
Certainly, the team try of the year.
What About Me...
If any team can challenge the Warriors, North Queensland can. The Cowboys beat them in Townsville early this season 42-22 and led in New Zealand 16-0 a few weeks ago, only to be run-down 28-20.
More recently, North Queensland has belted Wests Tigers and Cronulla to reach the Grand Final.
Jason Taumalolo and Chris Grevsmuhl are two of the big forwards who should help combat the Warriors size and strength.
They have very good halves and points out wide.
Below is a point-form preview. Enjoy the game.
Ain’t it Grand: The Toyota Cup Grand Final Guide
Warriors (1) v North Queensland (2)
ANZ Stadium, Homebush.
Kickoff 2pm EST.
Live Fox Sports.
Head to Head: Warriors 3-2. Warriors 28-20 (Rd 26, 2011). Nth Qld 42-22 (Rd 15, 2011). Nth Qld 24-16 (Rd 10, 2010). Warriors 41-16 (Rd 10, 2009). Warriors 32-12 (Rd18, 2008). Draw 24-24 (Rd 6, 2008).
History: 2010 Premiers (2nd), 2009 Finals (7th), 2008 Finals (3rd).
Finals Form: Warriors d Newcastle 54-6. Warriors d Canterbury 64-0.
Form Player: Konrad Hurrell. Seven tries in last three games.
X-Factor: Siliva Havili. Dynamic interchange hooker. Only Warriors to play every game of 2011.
Future Star: Ben Henry. Consistent captain who leads by example.
Why They’ll Win: Scored 851 points during regular season at an average of 35. Scored 118-6 during finals.
Why They Won’t: Pass!
History: 2010 Finals (4th), 2009 9th , 2008 16th.
Finals Form: Nth Qld d Wests Tigers 48-26. Nth Qld d Cronulla 38-14.
Form Player: Michael Parker-Walshe. Seven tries in last five games. 24 tries this season.
X-Factor: Wayne Ulugia. The Under 20’s version of Matt Bowen.
Future Star: Jason Taumalolo. Ran for 261 metres in Preliminary Final.
Why They’ll Win: Have no fears from two meetings with Warriors this season.
Why They Won’t: Can’t afford to switch off for periods during game.