ICYMI, on Thursday the @NRL - National Rugby League released the 2018 #NRLDraw.
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With the inception of the Under 20's Toyota Cup in 2008, many were sceptical as to how successful the competition would actually be.
Now halfway through the first season of the Toyota Cup, a lot more spectators are heading to their home games earlier than they normally would because they are treated to a fine display of young talent on show, some destined to be future NRL/International stars.
Talk of these youngsters being over trained and burnt out are dispelled very quickly with the crowd numbers steadily increasing, the players on the field are responding with enthusiasm.
So mid season, how are the teams performing? In some cases, a lot better than their respective First Grade sides. Quite a few players from the Under 20's competition have been called in by their Club to cover for injuries, covering for State of Origin duties, and so forth in the NRL games, and have slotted in with relative ease, some even cementing a First Grade spot.
St George Illawarra Dragons: Won 10. Lost 1. Drew 1. 1st position - 23 points. The most consistent team so far in the Under 20's competition. Their first draw of the year, in Round 13 against the Broncos, came as a surprise to many. John Kennedy, Matthew Mundine and Thomas Hancock have been stand out players in the Dragons side, with the latter two having both earned a spot in the NSW U18's playing in the curtain raiser in Game 2 of the State of Origin series.
Penrith Panthers: Won 9. Lost 2.Drew 0. 2nd position - 22 points. The Panthers continue to perform well on the field, and look to be a very solid unit. Their discipline sometimes letting them own, but made up for in stunning attacking options. Lachlan Coote stands out as one player to watch in the future. Along with Wade Graham, he has also been targeted for the NSW Under 18's rep side. Hooker Masada Iosefa also creates some great plays.
Canberra Raiders: Won 8. Lost 3. Drew 0. 3rd position - 20 points. The Raiders hold onto a 100% away record, losing 3 games at home. Turn their floundering home record around, and they will be a force to be reckoned with come finals time. Justin Carney and Josh Dugan, two very versatile players, who with talent around them, cause havoc for a lot of the opposition players.
Parramatta Eels: Won 6. Lost 4. Drew 1. 4th position - 17 points. A very solid unit who once again suffered a heavy away loss at the hands of the Broncos, and on a bit of a losing streak at present. This side seemed to perform well under pressure earlier in the season and need to bounce back from the current lull in form. Tim Mannah and Nathan Gardner two names that stand out for higher accolades.
Wests Tigers: Won 7. Lost 5. Drew 0. 5th position - 16 points. Three great wins in their last 3 starts has seen the Wests Tigers come ahead with leaps and bounds. Lead brilliantly by Tim Moltzen, this side is improving week by week. His transition to fullback a definite asset to the side.
Canterbury Bulldogs: Won 6. Lost 4. Drew 2. 6th position - 16 points. Two draws hasn't helped the Bulldogs cause, but has shown, along with some close victories, that they can hold their own in the close games. Jamal Idrishas lived up to the hype surrounding him, and looks to be a great future prospect. Ben Barba and John Kite definite stand outs for the Club.
NZ Warriors: Won 6. Lost 4. Drew 2. 7th position - 16 points. The Warriors side at times seems small in stature in comparison to their opposition, their attacking flair at times outstanding. Captain Russell Packer, and Sonny Fai, returning from a taste of top grade, can only boost their confidence. Kevin Locke and Ben Matulino looking the goods for the future.
Brisbane Broncos: Won 6. Lost 5. Drew 1. 8th position - 15 points. This is one side who can throw their opposition right off their game plan and will continue to do so throughout the rest of 2008. As expected, many of the team are included in the Qld U18's for Wednesday night's SOO curtain raiser. Ben Hunt has had a fine start to the year as has Gerard Beale.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Won 6. Lost 6. Drew 0. 9th position - 14 points. Chris Sandow is one player who for the Rabbitohs has been amazing. Pulled into the First Grade side against the Warriors last Friday night, his absence in the Juniors was very noticeable. Although Luke Capewell and Eddie Paea, more than able replacements on attack. There are some big boys amongst the Rabbitohs line-up.
Gold Coast Titans: Won 5. Lost 6. Drew 1. 10th position - 13 points. With back to back solid victories, the Junior Titans are starting to up the tempo heading into the back half of the 2008 season. Jordan Rapana is having a fine time with the boot, as was Kayne Lawton earlier in the season. A definite bonus to have solid goal kickers.
Melbourne Storm: Won 5. Lost 6. Drew 1. 11th position - 13 points. Sometimes hot, sometimes cold, the Storm Juniors seem to struggle with consistency. Joseph Tomane, Zeb Tawha and the boot of Liam Foran, all helpful in keeping the Melbourne side still within reach of the Top 8.
Manly Sea Eagles: Won 5. Lost 7. Drew 0. 12th position - 12 points. Manly seems to be one of the teams able to upset some of the front runners in the competition. Players like Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans perform solidly week in, week out. Foran rewarded with the stand off position in the NSW U18's for Game 2.
Newcastle Knights: Won 3. Lost 8. Drew 0. 13th position - 10 points. With an outstanding record in under 20s over the years the Knights went into the season with high hopes. Coach Trent Robinson has used 35 players for the half season and at one stage had 17 players unavailable through injury. Despite the tale of woe, Knights fans feel they have unearthed a star of the future in 5/8 or halfback Ryan Stig, and in recent weeks 17 year old NZ import Zane Tetavano has been making heads turn with his metre eating hitups and many line breaks. The Knights are already thinking about next year as they have blooded up to 6 under 18s most weeks.
Cronulla Sharks: Won 3. Lost 8. Drew 1. 14th position - 9 points. It seems a long time since Round 9 when the Junior Sharks last recorded a win in the NYC competition, although they have come tantalisingly close on more than one occasion. Jayson Bukuya and Karlos Filiga have earned themselves a call up to First Grade. Nathan Stapleton has also been solid throughout the first half of the season.
Sydney Roosters: Won 3. Lost 9. Drew 0. 15th position - 8 points. After winning their first three games of the year, the NYC Roosters side looked to emulate their NRL counterparts in 2008. However 9 consecutive defeats have put pay to any chances they may have of clawing their way back into the Toyota Cup competition. Ben Jones and Jake Friend, two players that have made their mark and will represent their state in Game 2 in the SOO Series.
NQ Cowboys: Won 0. Lost 10. Drew 2. 16th position - 4 points. With only a draw against Parramatta and the Warriors to show on paper for their season, the U20 Cowboys have a long road ahead of them. Unfortunately close fought games don't count for much unless you come away with the points. Obe Geia on the wing, one of the stand out performers for the Cowboys squad.
As we head into the second half of the season I'm sure the quality the rugby league supporters will see on the field before any NRL matches will only get better. The Toyota Cup is creating interest which can only be good for the game. Add to that the NSW Cup and the Queensland Cup and the amount of talent running around ready to step up to First Grade is astounding.