Cowboys v Rabbitohs: Five key points
The Cowboys were scary good in their 44-18 thumping of South Sydney on Friday, and coach Paul Green did not hesitate to say the best was yet to come. Michael Morgan bagged four try assists and a try of his own to build his case for a Kangaroos gig, but the men to his outside are also pressing claims.
Adam Reynolds impressed in his return game but there is no doubting that his side, which has lost four of its past five, is in a rut; hopefully Alex Johnston's return can fix some of that. And Cowboys youngster Patrick Kaufusi's second NRL appearance was all part of Green's plan.
Feldt and O'Neill continue to mount Origin case
With the recent news of Storm centre Will Chambers suffering a long-term foot injury, both Cowboys right-side three-quarters are now in the Origin mix. Queensland's backline has been shot to pieces by both injury and team-imposed sanctions, meaning both Kyle Feldt and Justin O'Neill have a chance to miraculously partner up on the right edge for Game I. With Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai all but guaranteed to feature on the flanks, the remaining two spots will likely be filled by two of Corey Oates, Feldt and O'Neill.
After the game O'Neill was asked about the concept of a club's outside backs combining at Origin level, saying, "I think there would be pros and cons [to an edge combination at Origin]. I think players playing with each other would definitely help because they have that connection already."
Adam Reynolds solid in return
Returning South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds had the last say in an otherwise dire night for the Rabbitohs. A resilient Reynolds was rewarded for his perseverance with a runaway intercept try in the final minutes, palming off Cowboys flyer Michael Morgan to get over the line.
Not known for his defence, Reynolds was targeted but stood up to make 23 tackles without a single miss. He was not afraid to put his body on the line, running the ball seven times.
Talking after the game, coach Michael Maguire was pleased with how his No.7 returned to action on Friday.
"He showed some really good signs. We probably didn't lay enough of a platform for him to do the things he can show, but his kicking game will get better going into next game," he said.
Patrick Kaufusi's taste of NRL only temporary
With 64 running metres from six carries and 13 tackles, Patrick Kaufusi was very solid in his second NRL game. Coach Paul Green's plan to elevate Kaufusi to the 17 this week was two-fold: 1) Kaufusi would be better served seeing top-grade action before he would be called upon in a large capacity around Origin time, and 2) the man he replaced, John Asiata, needed more match fitness under his belt before he is also called upon to do more around the typically tough time of year.
Asiata will form part of the Intrust Super Cup's Mackay Cutters who take on the Redcliffe Dolphins on Saturday evening, and Green wants big minutes from his ball-playing bench talent.
"With Johnny, he's been playing between 15 and 20 minutes each week, and you can't keep doing that because eventually we're going to ask more of him on the field and he is not going to be able to do that because he's only been playing that limited time. So he will get a bit of match fitness back in the [Intrust Super Cup] hopefully, and play as long a stint as he can back there and he will be back in the frame before too long.
"I thought [Kaufusi] was really good. He made some impact off the bench when he came on, he carried strong and his defence was good. It was his second game in the NRL and I think he enjoyed tonight and he did a good job; did what he had to do.
Thank goodness Alex Johnston is back next week
There will be some much-needed reshuffling of the Souths backline when tryscoring machine Alex Johnston returns against the Broncos. Kirisome Auva'a has had a couple of forgettable weeks next to Bryson Goodwin in the centres, and made two errors against the Cowboys on Friday. Along with Cowboys kickers exposing the Bunnies' lack of aerial expertise, the ball is not moving nearly well enough on the fringes due to a lack of familiarity.
Johnston's inclusion could regain some of that confidence on the right side. Next week's Rabbits three-quarter line will likely feature Aaron Gray on the left wing, outside Bryson Goodwin back in his favoured left centre positon, while Johnston occupies the right wing and Hymel Hunt on his inside.
Linnett makes surprise recovery, does not miss a beat
He wasn't named on Tuesday and at no stage did Cowboys coach Paul Green really think that he would be fit for Friday's game, but Kane Linnett took over right where he left off in his return from a shoulder injury. He will never set the world on fire with individual brilliance, but with 13 runs for 154 metres and nine tackles without a miss the 27-year-old delivered exactly what Green and his team wanted.
"[Linnett] pulled up good," Green said.
"It was a surprise that he got through the week well and we didn't think he was going to play this week but he pulled up really well after he did all the training. I'm really happy with how he got through."