Match Preview: Round 5
The St George Illawarra Dragons host the South Sydney Rabbitohs for the Men of League Heritage Round clash at the SCG on Saturday.
The Dragons will be looking to secure their position atop the NRL table with a victory on Saturday night, when they take on a South Sydney Rabbitohs outfit desperate to snap a three game losing streak.
While neither playing group will need any extra motivation ahead of the local derby, the fact the game is being played at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground during the Men of League Heritage Round will certainly bring a heightened sense of excitement into both camps.
The home side will be back at full strength for the first time in 2014, welcoming fullback Josh Dugan (knee), prop Dan Hunt (knee) and halfback Michael Witt (shoulder) into the starting lineup that went down to the Brisbane Broncos in Wollongong last Friday night.
However, prop Tyson Frizell has been ruled out with a replacement yet to be named.
Meanwhile, South Sydney coach Michael McGuire has made a number of changes to the side that fell to the Canberra Raiders at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon. John Sutton will move from the forwards back to five-eighth, while Dylan Walker shuffles from the #6 jersey back into the centres, replacing Lote Tuqiri, who has been sent back to NSW Cup.
St George Illawarra’s attack has looked polished over the first month of the season, largely thanks to the work of offseason signing Gareth Widdop.
The joint venture has scored 109 points in just their first four matches this season, sitting one point shy of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs for most in the NRL.
Souths on the other hand, who have been dealing with injuries and suspension in key positions, have managed only 74 points to date, fifth lowest in the league.
While the Dragons head coach Steve Price would be pleased with his sides attack thus far, he would not be so positive about their work in defence, after leaking 36 points at home last weekend to Brisbane.
Michael McGuire wouldn’t be much happier, after his side gave up 30 points to the Raiders in a 30-18 loss Sunday afternoon.
As if the atmosphere wasn’t going to be special enough at the SCG, John Sutton will be honored pre-game, before making his record 212th appearance for Souths, a club mark previously held by the great Bob McCarthy.
The Dragons have had the rub of the green in recent seasons winning 15 of their 21 clashes against the Rabbitohs.
However, more recent form has been split between the two, with each side coming away with five wins in their previous ten meetings.
Trent Merrin v Sam Burgess
Trent Merrin has been a large part of the Dragons success so far in 2014, firmly putting his hand up for NSW Blues selection once again this season.
The versatile 24-year-old has played in both the front and back-row so far this year, proving a vital member of head Coach Steve Price’s squad heading forward.
Meanwhile, English international Sam Burgess will be hoping he can get his forward pack to the same level it was competing at week in and week out last season, when many regarded them as the best pack in the competition.
Burgess has been one of the few bright spots in the Rabbitohs so far, averaging a healthy 176.5 metres a game, while making 15.8 hit-ups and just under 33 tackles a game.
Josh Dugan v Greg Inglis
Josh Dugan will return to the field for the first time since injuring his knee against the Rabbitohs in the Charity Shield back in February.
While Adam Quinlan certainly did not look out of place in the custodian jersey, contributing two tries, linebreaks and a handful of tackle busts in the opening four rounds, the explosive play of Dugan will elevate the Dragons attack to a whole new level.
If Souths are to come away with a win on Saturday night, they will be relying heavily on the work of the in form Greg Inglis.
Despite playing only five minutes against the Wests Tigers a fortnight ago due to a concussion, inglis bounced back last week to chalk up 234 running metres, seven tackle busts and a linebreaks in a losing effort, proving why he is still regarded as one of the most dangerous players in the world.
Gareth Widdop v John Sutton
Since moving to Wollongong over the off-season, Gareth Widdop has proved that he is one of the best five-eighths in the competition.
Arguably one of the buys of the season, Widdop has already contributed five try assists, eight tackle busts, as well as 33 points individual points, which is third most in the competition.
With his side struggling for points over the last couple of weeks, McGuire has opted to move Sutton back to five-eighth, hoping the change will lift his side in attack.
While playing in the forwards this season, Sutton has struggled with fitness, averaging only 60 minutes on the park.
Date: Saturday, April 5
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground
Gates Open: 5:00
NYC: 5:15pm kickoff
NRL: 7:30pm kickoff
Televised: Live on Fox Sports from 7:30pm