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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Magic Round comes to a big bang of a finish when the South Sydney Rabbitohs take on the North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday afternoon.
The Rabbitohs have been impressive this season and despite flying under the radar, they sit second on the NRL ladder with seven wins and just one loss this season - and that loss came in golden point against the Manly Sea Eagles away at Brookvale. The performance from Souths last week was excellent in their 38-6 victory over Brisbane - the game started evenly before the Bunnies put their dominance on the match, which saw them dominate field position and possession.
This season there were questions on how Souths would go with a new coach in Wayne Bennett, and then being tested with the early retirement of Greg Inglis - but it doesn't look like it's had an impact, with the Bunnies holding that 7-1 win-loss record. Their attack has been strong this season, being just one of two teams to score over 200 points over the first eight rounds.
Bennett's 17 this week is the same one that took to the field last Thursday night.
North Queensland have had a topsy-turvy season to say the least with impressive performances intertwined with some very average efforts as well. The Cowboys sit 11th on the NRL ladder with three wins and five losses through the first 8 rounds this season. They had started their season with an impressive win over the Dragons before sliding to four heavy losses in a row, before a surprise win in Auckland against the Warriors. The Townsville boys come into the match off the back of a good win against the Titans last Friday.
That victory for the Cowboys came with a bit of luck but ultimately, they were very good in attack and did enough to take the win. They were boosted by the return of Jason Taumalolo, which will be a big key to how they'll perform on Sunday against the Rabbitohs.
They have been forced into a charge with enforce Josh McGuire ruled out due to a leg injury. Boom rep forward Coen Hess takes his place in the starting pack. Kyle Feldt also returns from a long injury layoff.
Last meeting: Round 16 2018 - Rabbitohs 21 Cowboys 20
Who to watch: South Sydney five-eighth Cody Walker is a somewhat surprising leading try scorer for 2019 thus far, however it's his general play performances that have been very strong, somewhat key to the side's form so far this season. The impact that Walker has in attack with his ability to see gaps in the line - and his speed that sees him get through defences who are unable to read his unpredictability - is among the best in the NRL.
The key for Cody - who leads our LU Player of the Year standings after eight rounds - will be where he sets up in attack because his combination with Adam Reynolds is the best in the game at the moment.
Cowboys' big man John Asiata is an unlikely five-eighth, but the ball skills he possesses show that he is one of the quality players in the game. Packing size, footwork and those strong ball skills, Asiata can be a real handful for the opposition, and if he can draw the Rabbitohs defence in then he will have a big impact playing supplier for Michael Morgan.
And that's not even considering his kicking game which he put on display in last week's win!
The favourite: The Rabbitohs are the shortest priced favourites of the weekend due to their big difference in ladder position compared to the Cowboys.
My tip: Souths have just been way too impressive this season to see them stumble at Suncorp on Sunday. They looked super impressive against the Broncos and they could easily be undefeated to start the season had DCE's boot not pipped them at Brookvale. North Queensland on the other hand just haven't put it all together as a squad yet, whilst the Rabbitohs cohesion in attack is a huge asset. Rabbitohs by 12.
1. Alex Johnston 2. Corey Allen 3. Kyle Turner 4. Dane Gagai 5. Campbell Graham 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 14. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Sam Burgess 13. Cameron Murray 8. George Burgess 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Ethan Lowe 17. Liam Knight
1. Jordan Kahu 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 19. Tom Opacic 5. Ben Hampton 6. John Asiata 7. Michael Morgan 8. Matt Scott 14. Kurt Baptiste 10. Jordan McLean 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 9. Jake Granville 15. Mitchell Dunn 16. Scott Bolton 17. Francis Molo
Referees: Ashley Klein, Phil Henderson; Sideline Officials: Nick Morel, Adam Cassidy; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Bryan Norrie;