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.
25. Cowboys scorched by late Dragons blitz
The 2016 Holden Cup finals kicked off with the Cowboys 'hosting' the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium, and the battle between top four teams more than lived up to the hype. Stars of the future Kalyn Ponga, Matt Dufty and Luciano Leilua all delivered in key moments, but it was a lesser-known winger who stole the show with the game on the line. Ponga's two try assists and a double to Marcus Jensen – the competition's leading try-scorer – looked to have given the Cowboys a commanding lead, only for the Red V to pile on three tries in 13 minutes to move two points clear; a lead they held until the 77th minute when interchange player Nathan Traill barged over to put North Queensland ahead 30-26. Instead of going short from the restart the Dragons sent their kick-off deep, and perhaps caught by surprise the Cowboys allowed it to go dead, resulting in a line dropout. The move paid dividends shortly after when five-eighth Jai Field sliced through untouched to level the scores, only to miss the subsequent after-the-siren conversion as the game went into golden point. Incredibly, it was the second time the two teams had finished locked at 30-all after 80 minutes, but that's not how it would end this time around. A brilliant offload by Leilua sent Izaac Thompson downfield in the first period of extra-time, and after a couple of quick passes to keep the play alive the ball ended up with Dufty who bamboozled several defenders, attracted two more, unloaded to Matheson Johns who juggled the ball and then somehow touched down with millimetres to spare to complete the stunning win.
24. The Road Runner does his thing
There have been some amazing length-of-the-field tries in the Holden Cup over the years, but none compare to what Kevin Locke produced for the Warriors in 2009. On a dreary Sunday morning in the nation's capital, the man affectionately dubbed the 'Road Runner' outfoxed the Raiders with a try that has to be seen to be believed. After fielding an attacking kick a metre out from the dead-ball line in his own in-goal, Locke sped past two would-be defenders and then audaciously grubbered through five metres out from his own line, regathered on the 20-metre line, sprinted by a prop who had no reason to be there and then raced away to complete one of the greatest tries in NYC history. It's a move that would have left his coach seething had it backfired, but fortunately for Locke and rugby league fans, it worked out perfectly.
23. Five star performances
Frank Burge set the bar high back in 1920 when he scored eight tries in a match for Glebe against University, and while no player from the NYC has managed to better that record there are a few individual performances that deserve a mention. Over the years there have been seven players who have scored five tries in a match. Joe Vickery was the first to do so in 2009, and he has since been followed by Gerard McCullum, John Sila, Fuaimamao Uta, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and, most recently, Braidon Burns. Fans of the NYC – and particularly the Melbourne Storm – will hastily point out that there is a name missing from that list. Fear not, the man in question will feature later in this countdown.
22. Peerless Johnson dominates all and sundry
We've all seen what Shaun Johnson can do on a footy field. From his gravity-defying footwork to his no-look passes, the Warriors halfback is the complete attacking weapon. It should come as no surprise then that the prodigiously-talented playmaker ran amok in the 2009 Toyota Cup season to leave the rest of the competition in his wake. Johnson finished the year with a whopping 48 try assists – easily the most by any player in a single season – and also topped the try-scoring list at his club with 17 four-pointers. He coolly added 84 goals – and a field goal for good measure – to finish the season with 237 points. While all those numbers are amazing, it's the first statistic that we mentioned that stands out. Brad Murray (2010) and Luke Kelly (2009) managed 42 try assists in a season, but they were still six away from matching Johnson. To put it into context, Johnathan Thurston - who has finished the past three NRL seasons with the most assists – has tallied 31, 33 and 25 since 2014.
21. Brian Kelly the newest member of the Awesome Foursome
The naysayers will point out that this did not take place in the NYC, but to be fair it's still a fairly special moment. While their senior comrades have struggled in the State of Origin arena, the Junior Blues have had no such problems, winning all five meetings since the concept was introduced back in 2012. But as good as that record is, it's not why we're mentioning Origin. There have been seven players who have scored a hat-trick on what many will say is the biggest stage in rugby league. Maroons winger Dane Gagai became the latest man to join that illustrious list with his three-try haul in Game II of last year's series, but there is a New South Welshman who towers above the rest. A year after Jake Mamo crossed for a treble for the Junior Blues, Brian Kelly went one better in 2015 to become the first player in the annual interstate clash to score four tries in a game. The former Titans winger and current Sea Eagles recruit scored a brace in each half as the Blues romped to a 32-16 victory to extend their dominance over their northern neighbours.