NRL Magic Round: Sunday Match Preview & Betting Tips

The biggest match of Magic Round – the Roosters face 2019’s surprise packets Canberra in a top-four battle while the Bunnies ran riot over the Broncos and look to continue their rampage over Queenslanders with the Cowboys next up

James Baxter
 | 
Tue, 7 May, 12:00 AM

Sydney Roosters v Canberra Raiders – Suncorp Stadium – 2pm

The Roosters’ 42-12 win over the Wests Tigers was frightening for the rest of the competition – the Premiers aren’t just maintaining their pace from 2018 but accelerating past it.

The 7-1 Roosters are enjoying their best season start in 20 years and not even losing Jake Friend to long-term injury could slow them down for long. Victor Radley had problems filling in for Friend at hooker – it didn’t matter. Brett Morris, Matt Ikuvalu and Ryan Hall were all unavailable on the right edge – no worries. Latrell Mitchell only gets the ball 15 times while veteran temporary centre Mitch Aubusson gets the ball 16 times – that’s all Trell needed.

It wasn’t a complete Roosters performance – they’ll be disappointed at conceding the Tigers’ two tries through individual runs close to their line – but it’s an ominous sign where a side has won seven straight and done so without their strongest side.

Mitchell’s 26 point performance was perhaps the young superstar’s best career performance, grabbing headlines for his highlight-loaded hat trick but still finding time to monster Esan Marsters in defence and scrambling to clear a ball dead when the game was well won show the Roosters aren’t letting up. Nat Butcher and Sitili Tupouniua have gone from regular 18th and 19th men in teamsheets to genuine difference makers off the bench. Where the Roosters once struggled at times with taking Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sia Siua Taukeiaho off before the half, now they’re experiencing a different attacking dynamic through the middle with their interchange rotations.

When the Roosters attack down the left edge they’ve essentially got a combination good enough to represent Australia in Luke Keary, Boyd Cordner, Mitchell and Daniel Tupou. When they use their right edge they’ve got Cooper Cronk, Angus Crichton, Aubusson and Joey Manu (the aforementioned injured backs might have a say in that). All this with James Tedesco becoming the game’s best fullback through the middle. Combined with a strong defence, it’s a hell of a task for any side to outplay for 80 minutes.

Canberra though could prove an awkward matchup. They’ve had the wood on the Roosters in recent times – notably in Canberra – but their aggressive defence might be the mindset needed against a side who are prepared to risk mistakes if there’s a chance to strike anywhere on the field. The matchup between forward leaders Waerea-Hargreaves and Josh Papalii could give the best indication of whether the Raiders are the side to snap the Roosters’ seven game win streak.

After a disappointing loss to Manly, it was crucial for the Raiders to get back in the winners’ circle against the Panthers, and their clinical 30-12 win Wagga was just what coach Ricky Stuart wanted from his high-flying side. This is the type of win which gets sides into September – in control, taking the game away from the opposition, continued attacking improvement and controlling the game’s pace with your defence.

Sam Williams continues to keep Aiden Sezer out of first grade – his halves pairing with Jack Wighton is perhaps the most under-rated in the NRL based on their recent form. While prop Josh Papalii shows he can be Queensland’s pack enforcer coming up, it was veteran Sia Soliola who wound back the clock with his best game of 2019. The Panthers’ defensive line struggled to contain the Kiwi and it gave hooker Josh Hodgson the platform to steer his side comfortably around.

In another universe, Nick Cotric and Jarrod Croker would be preparing for another NSW campaign, but given the depth of NSW outside backs, the Raiders are likely going to keep the pair throughout rep season and with such an international mix in the Raiders roster minimising Origin’s impact, the 6-2 Raiders are very much looking a strong top four chance. The Raiders went some way in restoring their impressive defence reputation against the Panthers but they’ll get their ultimate test against the on-fire Roosters attack. A win against the Premiers and Canberra will no longer be flying under anyone’s radars.

 

Key Stats: The Raiders have won three straight against the Roosters but the last time they defeated them outside of Canberra was back in 2012. The Roosters have won every first half in 2019 by an average of 12 points. They’ve also scored 20 points in each of their last seven wins.

 

Tip: Roosters

Best bet: Race to 20 points – Roosters $1.63*

Value bet: Roosters 9+ halftime $2.88*

South Sydney Rabbitohs v North Queensland Cowboys – Suncorp Stadium – 4:05pm

Based on 2019 it seems a toss-up for NRL’s most in-form player between Latrell Mitchell and Souths five-eighth Cody Walker – something again evident in Walker carving up the Broncos in a 38-6 win at ANZ Stadium.

The pregame hype surrounded on coaches Wayne Bennett and Anthony Seibold’s return to former sides but Walker stole the show with another electric performance. Two tries, a try assist and a kicking game taking pressure off main kicker Adam Reynolds was an all-round brilliant game from the pivot whose chances of a NSW Origin call-up improve by the round. It’d be wrong though just to single out Walker’s effort – Tom Burgess was the best Bunny forward on ground, which itself is a fair achievement considering how dominant the Souths pack were over a well-beaten Broncos.

Burgess made the most carries (18) and metres (203) and when he performs like this, it eases any potential over-reliance on his brother Sam. Damien Cook flexed his own muscles in creating two tries and when Souths perform so ruthlessly like this under the coaching of the game’s most experienced and successful mentor in Bennett, very few NRL sides stand a hope.

Souths are capable of long-distance raids through Cook’s dummy-half awareness, forcing errors through their aggressive defence and in Reynolds possess NRL’s best kicker. The only side so far to beat the Roosters, the Rabbitohs will be eyeing the Cowboys off as a chance of potentially going top of the table and continue their impressive development with Bennett.

The Tongan Wrecking Ball is back! Jason Taumalolo’s return from knee injury saw his Cowboys side outmuscle the Titans in a 28-14 win at home.

In a week where coach Paul Green was forced to play down reports of a player mutiny, the Cowboys presented a united team and had one of their better performances in recent memory. Michael Morgan has copped plenty of criticism in not living up to the high standards he set particularly in 2017 but the halfback is working his way into form in time for Origin season.

After working his way through Te Maire Martin and Jake Clifford as halves partners, Morgan might have found an unlikely five-eighth partner in big John Asiata. More known for playing as a prop or lock, Asiata has pinch hit in the halves during previous injury crises and with a season quickly fading away, Green turned to the 104kg big man to help turn their attack around. Asiata duly obliged, not overplaying his hand in attack but contributing with the occasional kick and even helping himself to a try. Asiata’s repositioning strengthens both the Cowboys defence and also increases Morgan’s responsibility – not a bad thing when you’re looking for your main playmaker to step up.

Taumalolo had a fine return and you can see the confidence he inspires from teammates just by being back on the field. But the Rugby League Gods giveth and taketh and Josh McGuire – a standout in “Lolo’s” time on the sideline – went down early with a calf complaint, meaning once again Green is unable to name his full-strength pack. This is particularly inopportune timing with a Souths pack firing on all cylinders their next test. Keep an eye out for ex-Cowboy Ethan Lowe’s first game against his old side. Lowe won a Premiership with the Cowboys but had a falling out with Green and despite remaining on good terms with his former teammates, there’s no love lost between the Cowboys coach and in-form Bunnies recruit.

 

Key stats: Souths are used to hosting the Cowboys in Queensland – they’ve played in Cairns three times for a 1-2 record. Cody Walker is on fire with seven tries from his last four games, plus he scored the last time he faced the Cowboys. North Queensland played at Suncorp in round two – and was belted 29-10 by Brisbane. The average Cowboys losing margin in 2019 is 16.2 points.

 

Tip: Rabbitohs

Best bet: Souths -10 $2.10*

Value bet: Cody Walker anytime try scorer $2.30*

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