Richie Barnett on league

Opinion and analysis from former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett

Richie Barnett: Warriors prove the kids are all right

Kevin Locke. Photo / Getty Images
Kevin Locke. Photo / Getty Images

Tomorrow night's match between the Warriors and Cowboys will showcase just what an important feeder competition the Toyota Cup has become.

The U20s competition is a tremendous nursery for league talent - and no one is producing more than the Warriors.

Just look at the line-up for the match in Townsville: Seven players in the Warriors side have come through the Toyota Cup ranks. That seven includes exciting halfback Shaun Johnson, lock Elijah Taylor and fullback Kevin Locke.

Those "spine" positions are vital in any team. It is massive for the Warriors that they are producing brilliant players in those positions.

It shows Dean Bell and his recruitment and development staff are on the right track. It doesn't end there. Forwards Russell Packer and Ben Matulino came through the junior ranks. Wing Glen Fisiiahi was a superstar in the NYC and he looks like he'll be a superstar in the NRL.

Below the current crop, the likes of Omar Slaimankhel and Konrad Hurrell are coming through. Slaimankhel has been a try-scoring machine and looks a huge talent, while Hurrell is just a freak. The kid has an amazingly powerful physique and his metres and tackle-bust numbers are out of this world. Hurrell is new to the game and still has plenty to learn, but he certainly has the raw talent.

It's bloody exciting to see players like that coming through.

Look around the competition and you'll see most teams have great young players coming through their junior systems. There's Josh Dugan and Sam Williams at the Raiders; Daly Cherry-Evans and Will Hopoate at Manly; Dane Gagai and Corey Norman at Brisbane. The list goes on and on.

The Cowboys, of course, have their own young superstar in Tariq Sims. Just how good is this kid? He is a beast. Sims was the Toyota Cup player of the year last season. It seems amazing now that the Broncos let him go. The only explanation I can think of is that he wanted a whole load of money.

The Broncos have a reputation for not paying over the odds. They will offer what they think a player is worth and if that player can get more elsewhere, so be it. But the Broncos' loss has definitely been the Cowboys' gain.

Sims has been a huge part of a massive turnaround at the Cowboys. The same can be said of former Storm forward Dallas Johnson, who is one of the hardest workers in the game. It just shows what a couple of good buys can do for a club. The Cowboys have totally turned it around this season.

It all comes down to their defence and their attitude. They've sorted their D out and their attack just comes naturally. Matt Bowen looks to be injury-free and back to his best, while Johnathan Thurston looks so much more enthusiastic after having a good rest at the end of last season. It's amazing what a decent break and full pre-season can do for a player.

The Cowboys might have a few injury problems - particularly at centre with Antonio Winterstein and Willie Tonga both out - but the Warriors still face a massive challenge.

Townsville is the toughest trip of the season for any club, let alone one from New Zealand. It will be fascinating to see how the Warriors' young guns measure up.

- NZ Herald

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