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Dragons fullback Matt Dufty at the 2017 Downer NRL Auckland Nines launch.

For the best part of a decade, rugby league fans have been treated to a new brand of footy by the best up-and-coming talent on the game's biggest stage. But with confirmation that the Holden Cup will no longer exist beyond the 2017 season, we've decided to take a trip down memory lane and count down the finest 50 moments from the under-20s competition.   

35. Zac Mackay has a field day

We teased it earlier, and here it is. Zac Mackay, you are a freak – and we mean that in the best way possible. In Round 25 of the 2012 under-20s season, the Panthers flattened the Titans 78-0 in what was – and still is – the biggest win in NYC history. It wasn't just a record-breaking day for the team, as Mackay etched his name into the annals of history with a personal haul of 38 points (four tries and 11 goals). Only Dave Brown (45 points in a NSWRL match in 1935) has outscored Mackay, who equalled Brown's haul of 38 points (also 1935) and Mal Meninga's 38-point effort for the Raiders in 1990. Fellow Panther Nathan Cleary headlines a list of four NYC players (Nathan Davis, Patrick Templeman and Kurt French) who have scored 30 points in a match, with the now NRL star adding a further 26 points the following week in what would be his last match in the under-20s. 

34. Fingernail biting stuff in the 2009 GF

The second instalment of the competition was always going to be hard-pressed to deliver as dramatic a finish as what we saw in the inaugural grand final, but the Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers did their best to rival the drama. The sides had been equally matched in the regular season with the Storm winning 38-22 on the road before the Tigers bounced back with a 38-28 win of their own 10 weeks later. Both teams enjoyed 24-point victories in the preliminary finals and named star-studded squads for the decider. The Storm boasted the likes of future internationals Jesse Bromwich, Justin O'Neill and Gareth Widdop, while the Tigers had Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita in the front row. Melbourne jumped out to an 18-10 lead at half-time, only for the Wests Tigers to hit the front thanks to that year's leading try-scorer, Jake Mullaney, who crossed for tries either side of the break and then set up Robert Lui for the go-ahead score. However, the Storm would have the final say as Widdop raced through to ground a grubber to level the scores with six minutes to play. Replays suggested there might have been separation, but it mattered little as the Englishman picked himself up and converted his own try to secure the Thunderbolts their first premiership. The Storm's win over the Eels later that day in the NRL saw Melbourne become the only team to win both grades in the same year. 

33. Props to Viliame Kikau 

When Gold Coast Titans skipper Ryan James barged over in week one of the finals last year, he became the first prop in the top-grade to score 12 tries in a single season, going past Jack Holland (1950) and Harry Eden (1975) who each crossed 11 times. While his efforts were enough to break a long-standing first-grade record, they pale in comparison to what Viliame Kikau managed to do for the Cowboys during the 2015 NYC season. The behemoth crashed over for 21 tries from 21 appearances (one of those was in the second row but he didn't score) to comfortably set the record for the most tries scored by a prop in a single season. Kikau started the year with a hat-trick against the Roosters in Round 1 and backed it up with another treble against the Dragons midway through the season. His exploits earned him a spot in the Holden Cup team of the Year for 2015, as well as a contract with the Penrith Panthers who will be hoping he remains injury free this season. 

32. Where there's a Will, there's a way

Most 16-year-olds spend their days studying for the School Certificate, learning how to drive or flipping burgers at their local fast food outlet. But Will Hopoate isn't most people. Three months and 14 days after celebrating his sweet 16th, Hopoate made his NYC debut for the Sea Eagles in their Round 24 win over the Wests Tigers. He would play two more matches that year, finishing his debut season with three tries from as many games (all victories), before playing 15 games in 2009 and another 15 the following season. On the back of 10 tries in 2010, Hopoate was drafted into Manly's NRL side where he made three appearances before he became a premiership winner the following season in his side's 24-10 win over the Warriors. There have been 15 NYC players who have debuted before their 17th birthday – including last year's joint Dally M winner, Jason Taumalolo – but Hopoate's record looks like it will never be broken. 

31. Matt Dufty's record-breaking exploits 

If the Dragons want to arrest their point-scoring woes in the NRL then they simply must turn to Matt Dufty for an attacking spark. The lightweight fullback graduated from the NYC at the end of 2016 as the leading try-scorer in the competition's history with 55 four-pointers from 65 appearances. A member of last season's Holden Cup Team of the Year, Dufty also scored for the Junior Blues in the 2016 Under-20s State of Origin match at ANZ Stadium. The Dragons fullback has no problems setting up tries, but it's his length-of-the-field kick returns, his 20-metre restart quick-tap tries and his flashy footwork that has fans of the Red V dreaming of what might be. With 23 tries and 22 try assists last season, Dufty confirmed his status as one of the best players in NYC history, and must now be considered a strong chance to play NRL in 2017. 


Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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