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Just when it looked like the Magicians were on the right track with further improvement recorded in Round 4, reality struck with the force of a Paul Gallen bell-ringer. Sure we improved with a personal best score of 692 but the most successful teams for the round topped 830.

Looks like another change in philosophy is required and we’re only just into April! A check of the leading teams reveals that many have committed almost half of their salary cap to as few as six players. We only just managed to justify the selection of top weight Corey Parker in our squad at the start of the season but now we find that a significant number of the leading teams have included five and sometimes six players with values in excess of $300,000 in their line-ups.

Admittedly some players, like North Queensland’s Dallas Johnson have broken through the $300k threshold with recent revaluations but many of the most successful Dream Team combinations have managed to squeeze Parker ($397,300), Cameron Smith ($385,800), Nathan Hindmarsh (360,400), Jamie Soward ($329,100), Dallas Johnson ($306,800) and Shaun Fensom ($307,700) inside their $4.2 million salary cap.

They have then added good value cheap players such as Daly Cherry-Evans (who started at $73,600), Jamie Buhrer ($92,500) and Chris Houston ($84,100) to bolster their ranks.

That would appear to be where the greatest skill lies: Identifying the up and comers who will not put a strain on the salary cap and who are going to score well on a weekly basis.

As for the Magicians, our main focus remains in shoring up our squad ahead of the byes in Rounds 9 and 11.

Our two latest trades have taken us to 10 already but we are well on the way to ensuring that we have competitive squads for the two upcoming rounds that are limited to only four games (Round 9) and five games (Round 11).

Forced to trade one of our two fullbacks because both of their teams are out of action in Round 9, we chose Penrith’s Lachlan Coote, who will miss this week through injury and with a choice between similarly priced Melbourne pair Billy Slater and Gareth Widdop, we went with Widdop. The talented young Englishman has made a great fist of five-eighth this season and unlike Slater, he won’t be called up for rep duty before the Storm’s Round 9 match and he won’t be forced to stand down before Origin II in Round 14.

We also off-loaded Penrith prop Sam McKendry, who missed last weekend’s clash with Brisbane and is out of this week’s game against Canberra. In his place we have gone with Warriors prop Sam Rapira, who should be free to play in Round 9 even if he is drafted into the Kiwis’ line-up for the Test against Australia that weekend.

The Magicians managed to win four of our five private league contests in Round 4 even if we did strike it lucky with our auto-emergency. The “free” interchange was required when McKendry was a late withdrawal for the Panthers but because we had only two scoring players among our reserves (Luke Burt, 28 points and Nathan Merritt, 24 points), we were awarded the 24 points for Merritt as our lowest-scoring reserve.

Apart from the trades we have made only cosmetic changes to our line-up this week, substituting Matt Utai for Luke Burt and recalling Casey McGuire as a substitute (for Parramatta team-mate Mitchell Allgood).

High-priced Gold Coast back-rower Ashley Harrison remains on the injured list and we are hoping that Greg Eastwood will soon make his comeback from off-season surgery for the Bulldogs.

Add me to your Dream Team League and go head-to-head with Middo’s Magicians this weekend.

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