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The final game of Magic Round on Sunday night sees the North Queensland Cowboys look to keep their spot in the NRL top four when they take on the Wests Tigers.
Despite their sluggish and uninspired start to the season, the Wests Tigers have found their spirit in recent weeks and despite not bringing the wins in consistently, the Tigers have managed to show that they won't be easy beats going forward.
Last weekend, the Tigers fell to a 36-22 defeat at the hands of the Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval in a game where it looked like that the Tigers at one stage were going to be blown off the park. Trailing 18-0 at one stage, the Tigers looked as if Manly were going to blow them off the park but a near comeback saw them back into the contest before Manly put the game beyond doubt.
The Tigers are boosted by the return of Luciano Leilua which has seen Alex Seyfarth dropped to the bench whilst Thomas Mikaele who suffered a head knock last week dropped to the reserves. Ken Maumalo who was also taken out of last weeks game with concussion has been named to start.
Surprise packets of the NRL season, the North Queensland Cowboys come into magic round sitting in third sport and will close the gap between them and second spot if they take victory. The Cowboys have six wins this season from their nine matches and have surprised many with the nature of some of their victories.
Last weekend, the North Queensland Cowboys kept their strong form going this season with their 36-16 victory over the Newcastle Knights in Townsville last week. Although dominant on the scoreboard, the Cowboys were up against it during the first half of clash after trailing 16-12 to the Knights at the break. The second half was dominant by the Cowboys who ran in 24 unanswered points and were denied two more tries that could have pushed the lead well beyond 20 points.
Todd Payten has gone with an unchanged line-up this week following the performance of his side with Scott Drinkwater keeping his fullback role with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow set to come off the bench for the third match in a row.
Last meeting: Round 22 2021 - Cowboys 16 Wests Tigers 24
Who to watch: Departing Tigers Centre Luke Garner has had a strong season shifting from the second row to the centres for Michael Maguire this season. The Panthers-bound 26 year-old was a key player last week for the Tigers scoring an individual effort an being a key cog in attack and defence. Garner can have a strong game and needs to have it here in a backline with some fragility.
Jeremiah Nanai has been one of the best performers for North Queensland this season and coming up against a strong second row performer in Luciano Leilua, the Cowboys youngster will need to be on song. Nanai has been a favourite of fans right across the NRL and he possesses the game that can single-handedly change the game for his side and the Tigers will need to watch out for that.
The favourite: The Cowboys are the favourites for the contest.
My tip: The Tigers have a strong record at Magic Round but the Cowboys come into the contest with better form and it's hard to see them losing on the weekend. The Tigers will no doubt have a lot of spirit and the game will be closer than ladder standings would show but the North Queenslanders have the x-factor that should see the Cowboys home. Cowboys by 10.
1. Starford To'a 23. Junior Tupou 14. Tyrone Peachey 4. Luke Garner 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Luke Brooks 7. Jackson Hastings 8. James Tamou 9. Jake Simpkin 10. Zane Musgrove 11. Kelma Tuilagi 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Joe Ofahengaue 22. Junior Pauga 15. Alex Twal 16. Alex Seyfarth 17. Stefano Utoikamanu 19. Jock Madden
1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Reuben Cotter 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 15. Heilum Luki 16. Coen Hess 17. Griffin Neame 18. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski, Dave Munro; Video Referees: Chris Butler;