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Fox Sports' Matt Russell previews round 22 of the Toyota Cup

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    Fox Sports' Matt Russell previews round 22 of the Toyota Cup

        By Matt Russell
        foxsports.com.au
        August 05, 2009
    http://www.foxsports.com.au/story/0,8659,25886441-5016683,00.html


    The best thing about sport is that the best teams or best individuals don't always provide the best moments that live long in our memories.
    Just ask Eric "The Eel" Moussambani, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards or Steven "Last Man Standing" Bradbury.

    On Sunday, I watched the Cronulla Sharks Toyota Cup players celebrate like they'd won the grand final and sing the club song as if it were for the last time.

    They'd just defended like their future depended on it.

    They'd just beaten Parramatta 24-18.

    They'd just snapped a 13-game losing streak.

    They'd just finished in front for the first time since April 11.

    As the Sharks fell to heavy loss after heavy loss - with the odd teasing close one along the way- they seemingly never lost sight of what became the goal. To win again.

    During their losing run they still rushed in to congratulate a try-scorer even when the game was gone; they encouragingly back-slapped a team mate who had made an error; they ran in to defend a team-mate in trouble; they stuck together.

    It speaks volumes for the team's leaders - coach Joey Grima and captain Luke Latham - who probably also enjoyed the breakthrough coming against the club both left last season.

    I shook their hands after the game and wonder if I'll see broader smiles and as much satisfaction again before grand final day.

    Of course the first weekend in October is the real prize and the one that will be most remembered.

    But in Toyota Cup season 2009, a game on August 2 was also a highlight. And what a great game it was.

    Feel the finals

    The scenes at Shark Park reminded me of finals footy as did the contest at the Sydney Football Stadium on Monday.

    Ladder leading Manly edged home over a charging Wests Tigers 40-34.

    The Tigers led their highly fancied rivals with less than 10 minutes to go but conceded late tries to Lama Tasi and David Sheehan as the Sea Eagles stayed right on track for the minor premiership.

    Point of difference

    There is no doubting Manly's premiership credentials.

    The Sea Eagles under 20s have scored a staggering 689 points and have a points differential of +375.

    Compare that to the NRL's best points haul of 470 (Nth Qld) and best points differential of +220 (St George Illawarra).

    The Toyota Cup is a long way from the NRL but as a relative comparison, Manly's Toyota Cup stats line is breathtaking.

    Watch and learn

    How good is this Manly team? On Saturday, you can see for yourself.

    Fox Sports will show the young Sea Eagles for the second time this season when they host South Sydney.

    You may have already seen Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Keiran Foran in the NRL but there is much more to Manly's under 20s than them, like fullback William Hopoate, halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and back-rowers Darcy Lussick and Jamie Buhrer.

    The Rabbitohs' only loss in their last four games was against the impressive Brisbane Broncos and by only six points.

    They enter this game coming off back to back wins against the Roosters and Bulldogs, having passed 40 points on each occasion.

    The backline shootout should be sensational.

    South Sydney's Kane Morgan leads the competition's try-scoring with 22 and his centre Junior Vaivai isn't far behind on 18.

    Malcolm Webster is fresh from four tries last weekend.

    If they get their way, the Bunnies have enough bounce out wide to leave any defensive line shooting at thin air.

    Still Souths will need a big improvement on their earlier meeting this year, when Manly won 42-16.

    Join myself and Gary Belcher from 2.30pm (EST) on Fox Sports 2 as we preview the NRL round and then call all the Toyota Cup action.

    Multiple problems

    Pity the poor punter who spread $39,500 across five Toyota Cup multis last weekend.

    Four of them had an anchor leg of Melbourne leading St George Illawarra at half and fulltime last Friday.

    They did neither!

    The other bet had Melbourne with a 5.5 point start.

    They were beaten by 12!

    Instead of the punter collecting $328,220, TAB Sportsbet had 39,500 reasons to salute the famous Red V.

    First to fifty


    Our stats boys don't miss much and that was the case again this week when they realised some players must be very close to playing 50 Toyota Cup games.

    Remembering the competition only started last season, nobody has done it yet.

    The milestone will be marked by many in the weeks to come.

    Heading into this weekend the scoreboard looks like this:

    1 - Kane Linnett (St George Illawarra) 46 games

    2 - Elijah Taylor (Warriors) 45 games

    3 - Jarrad Kennedy (Canberra) 44 games

    3 - Dean Whare (St George Illawarra) 44 games

    5 - Michael Picker (Canberra) 43 games

    5 - Lancen Joudo (Cronulla) 43 games

    Controversy Corner

    Mick Picker would be higher on the above list had he not played his last two games for Souths Logan instead of Canberra.

    The Raiders Toyota Cup team lost their captain, kicker, chief play maker and most experienced player for a fortnight while he was tested in "open company" in the Queensland Cup.

    While Souths Logan is unbeaten on top of the table, Picker's Canberra team slumped to a third straight loss on the weekend, again giving up a big halftime lead.

    There are two arguments surrounding the use of Picker:

    Case for Souths Logan

    Picker will be too old for the Toyota Cup next year and Canberra needs to know now his ability to mix it in senior football. Ultimately the Toyota Cup is designed to prepare and promote young men for NRL. Mixing Toyota Cup and NSW/Qld Cup football is a format plenty of clubs employ. Canberra has embraced the Toyota Cup as well as any club and the results are evident. In Saturday's 56-0 romp against Brisbane, Josh Dugan, Jarod Croker, Daniel Vidot and Travis Waddell have all stepped up from under 20s this year, while Joel Thompson is a product of last year's premiership team. The football department clearly knows best and far be it for others to criticise.

    Case against Souths Logan

    How can you justify taking a key player out of any team as it is fighting hard to make the finals? Let's remember Canberra isn't just an also ran. It is the defending Toyota Cup premier. James Smart filled in admirably but in a team already hard-hit by NRL promotion, Picker's absence has to be partly to blame on a three-match losing streak. The Toyota Cup is televised nationally on the basis it showcases the best young talent in the country. What other competition has leading players moved on with the smell of finals in the air? Toyota Cup participants, fans and viewers have every right to feel their competition is cheapened by such player movement.

    Warriors woes

    What are the Warriors capable of come the semis ... if they make it?

    One week they trounce high flying St George Illawarra. Next week they lose to Penrith.

    One was at Mt Smart Stadium. The other at the foot of the Blue Mountains. That is the key!

    The Warriors didn't crack their first Australian win this season until Cronulla on June 7 and have since backed up against Gold Coast, but two out of 10 is hardly convincing.

    If the Warriors were to play semi finals at home they would be a big chance but those games will be in Australia.

    These semi-professionals do a wonderful job to travel so much and still be competitive but the fact is they have to be more consistent in Australia.

    This week they should do a job on the floundering Gold Coast in New Zealand. Then they have games against battling Parramatta and Bulldogs in Australia to fine tune for the finals.

    Coach Tony Iro knows time is running out if his team wants to improve on last year's elimination one week short of the grand final.

    See the New Zealanders on home soil against the Titans this Sunday at the earlier time of 9.30am on Fox Sports 2.

    http://www.foxsports.com.au/story/0,8659,25886441-5016683,00.html
     

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