Match Preview: Round 7
The St George Illawarra Dragons will be desperate to atone for a three game losing streak, when they take on the New Zealand Warriors at Kogarah on Saturday.
Despite the heartbreak of an after the siren lose to the Melbourne Storm, the Dragons will somehow have to get themselves up for the clash against the Warriors, a team which themselves lost on a last minute Trent Hodkinson field goal.
Dragons Head Coach Steve Price has named an unchanged line-up to take on their trans-Tasman rivals, with the only injury concern being that of Dylan Farrell, who has been ruled out for several month after having surgery on a rupture pectoral muscle.
After an impressive game on Monday night, prop Jack Stockwell has kept his starting position, even with Jack de Bellin being available for selection following a one game suspension.
Despite being charged by the match review committee, Joel Thompson and Mitch Rein have both been cleared to play in the all important clash, having each taken the early guilty plea.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have made a number of changes, with first year head coach Andrew McFadden dropping excitement machine Konrad Hurrell to NSW Cup, with his place being taken by 19 year old David Fusitua, who will play only his second game in the top grade.
Jason Bukuya returns from a foot injury, taking the place of Ben Matulino, who is serving a two week suspension for a shoulder charge, while Ben Henry comes onto the bench, replacing the injured Sebastine Ikahihifo.
While attack had been an issue in previous weeks, the Dragons managed to score four converted tries against Melbourne, while completing 85% of their sets, a vast improvement on the previous fortnight.
However, Steve Price would still be emphasising the importance of discipline, after St George gave away eight penalties, all but undoing their only five errors over the eighty minutes of football.
New Zealand have still given up the most points in the competition through the opening six rounds, allowing 26.5 points per game so far in 2014, a major factor for their position of the table.
The Warriors have had a horror run against the Big Red V since 1999, winning only four of their 21 matchups. This includes the current streak of nine loses.
The one positive for the visitors; they have won their one and only game played at Kogarah.
When the two sides met in round 2 at Eden Park, Auckland earlier this year, St George Illawarra were all over the Warriors, running in five tries to two in a 31-12 drubbing of the home side.
Gareth Widdop v Thomas Leuluai
If the Dragons want to come away with the two points on Saturday night, Widdop will have to be on top of his game.
The English International is averaging a try assist a game, only two shy of the league-leading trio of Brett Stewart, Josh Reynolds and Cooper Cronk.
His boot has kept St George Illawarra in a number of games this season, going 4/4 on Monday night, while kicking at 81% on the season.
Missing the first three games of the year with a groin injury, Leuluai would be the first to admit that his 2014 campaign has been a disappointing one.
The big Dragons forwards will surely be lining up Leuluai, after the little number six missed five tackles last week against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
Jason Nightingale v Manu Vatuvei
While both Nightingale and Vatuvei may share the same position, there is nothing similar about their size, with Jason giving away a good 20kg’s on a good day.
That won’t deter Nightingale though, with the Sydney born Kiwi being one of the best in 2014 for the Dragons.
While he has only scored three tries so far, his has been chewing up the metres, averaging 114 metres a game, one of the highest amongst outside backs.
Vatuvei has been one of the shining lights for the Warriors, scoring a try in four of his five appearances thus far, to go along with three 120+ metre games.
However, errors have started to creep back into his game, making two a fortnight ago against the Wests Tigers, and three against the Bulldogs last weekend.
Brett Morris v David Fusitua
On the other wing, it is an experienced Australian test representative against a 19 year old in only his second match in the top grade.
Morris himself is averaging 130 metres alone so far this season, while having scored four tries in his six appearances in the red and white.
He went off in round 2 against the Warriors, scoring a try and running for 204 metres in their 31-12 drubbing of New Zealand.
Meanwhile, young David Fusitua’s first grade appearance came in that same match just over a month ago, when he himself made 108 metres on ten runs.
He will be hoping he has a better day with the hands though, coughing up the ball twice in his debut.
Gareth Widdop and Michael Witt will surely test the youngster at the back, directing much of their kicking in his direction.
Time: Saturday, April 20 5:30pm
NSW Cup: 3:10pm