Top 50 greatest moments in NYC history: 15-11
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.
15. Better late than never
One of the best feelings for a journalist is finishing off a match report before the full-time whistle, sitting back and enjoying the final few plays of the contest. Unfortunately, that rarely happens in the NYC with so many tries scored in the 80th minute. While it usually means tacking on "they scored a consolation try at the death", some tries are worthy of a special mention, including two efforts from last season. The Broncos weren't content with a 26-point win over the Bunnies in Round 19, and weren't we lucky that they decided to chance their arm after the full-time siren. Brisbane swiftly shifted the ball to the right as Sam Leach scorched his way down the sideline and put in a dusty infield kick that evaded several players before teammate Jamayne Isaako soccered it off the ground, regathered the ball, beat two tackles, and produced a stunning backhand offload for Sam Smith who scored and was subsequently set upon by his raucous teammates. While that was good, it was narrowly pipped by Penrith's team effort in Week 1 of the finals. Powerhouse winger Ratu Tuisese collected a grubber near his own line, shrugged off three Cronulla defenders and set off for the line, only to be corralled towards the sideline 25 metres out. Ash Nisbet's desperate chase looked to have shut down the play, but the back-rower's efforts were all in vain as Tuisese cheekily slid to the turf, got to his feet and stepped past another Shark before offloading to Dylan Edwards who studied his options, saw an unmarked Braidon Burns and kicked ahead for the Panthers centre to complete the try of the season. These are the plays that we love writing about, even if they do force late changes to our copy.
14. Five-star Blues
The past decade has provided very little to cheer about for NSW fans, with the Maroons winning all but one State of Origin series since 2006. Thankfully for those south of the border, it's the complete opposite in the under-20s. The Junior Blues are yet to taste defeat since the concept was introduced in 2012, and have won the past four clashes by an average margin of 19 points. It's an incredible achievement when you consider some of the players who have represented Queensland – Anthony Milford, Gideon Gela-Mosby and Valentine Holmes just to name a few – but Blues coach Dean Pay has managed to instil a culture of winning that the senior comrades haven't quite been able to master.
13. NYC on cloud 'Nines'
There is no better time than the pre-season for rookies to put their hands up for first grade selection. And no pre-season tournament gets more exposure than the Downer NRL Auckland Nines, so it should come as no surprise that more and more Holden Cup players have captured the eye of rugby league fans at the annual event. This year's instalment saw former Roosters NYC star Connor Watson crowned MVP, and he was joined in the Team of the Tournament by seven players who graduated or are still eligible for the Holden Cup (Suaia Matagi was the only member without NYC experience). The weekend pushed the NRL claims of Cowboys pair Kalyn Ponga and Gideon Gela-Mosby, as well as Storm half Brodie Croft, while Watson's starting stocks soared in Auckland, although he conceded he would be happy with a bench spot come Round 1.
12. Roosters slay the Dragons in epic comeback win
In a couple of weeks' time, we will look at how the Roosters somehow stole last year's grand final from the Panthers in one of the most dramatic comebacks in Holden Cup history. But today, we'll revisit their almost-as-exhilarating win over the Dragons in the preliminary final. This was a match the Tricolours should not have won. Taking on a Dragons outfit that had already beaten them twice in 2016, the Roosters found themselves down 14-0 at the break and staring down the barrel of a disappointing finals exit. Quick tries to Victor Radley and Grant Garvey cut the gap to two points in the 49th minute, only for the Red V to re-establish an eight-point buffer when Reece Robson burrowed over from dummy-half. The Roosters needed something special and turned to leading try-scorer Bernard Lewis for inspiration as he reeled in an all-or-nothing grubber to score in the corner. Then, with eight minutes left, Poasa Faamausili – the unlikeliest of heroes – stormed over with three men on his back to give his side the lead. The cherry-on-top moment came when Joseph Manu snuffed out a Dragons attack with an interception near halfway and offloaded to Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck who stepped past one, burst through another tackle and used whatever energy he had left to evade the chasing pack. It was an awesome moment made even better by the huge contingent of Roosters supporters and staff who made enough noise to make it feel like Allianz Stadium was sold out.
11. Broncos surge falls agonisingly short
There have been some amazing comebacks in NYC grand finals over the year, but sadly for the Broncos, this wasn't one of them. In truth, Brisbane should never have been close, but a frantic second-half comeback saw them get within a kick of forcing extra-time, only for the conversion attempt to drift wide. The 2014 decider – won by the Warriors 34-32 – featured the Nikorima brothers, Ash Taylor, Tui Lolohea and Solomone Kata, and produced a whopping seven tries that were turned down by the video referee. The Warriors raced out to a 22-6 half-time lead on the back of Kata's hat-trick and looked home and hosed when Sam Lisone charged over to open up a 28-point cushion with 25 minutes to play. But two tries in as many minutes to Broncos winger Paul Byrnes changed the complexion of the contest. A controversial try to Kodi Nikorima and a simple effort in the corner to Jack Tuttle cut the gap to six points, and when Jayden Nikorima ran into a yawning gap to score, the Broncos were a conversion away from sending the game into golden point. On his 18th birthday, Nikorima had the daunting task of trying to nail the 79th-minute kick from five metres in from the sideline; the situation not helped by the adrenalin rushing through his veins having just scored the try. Unfortunately Nikorima couldn't add to his club-best 52 goals that year as he sent the attempt well wide of the posts. There was time for one final play from the kick-off, but despite some razzle-dazzle footy, the Broncos couldn't go the length of the field for the miracle win.