Match Preview: Round 9
The St George Illawarra Dragons will look to return from the representative break in the best way possible with a win against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium, Wollongong on Sunday.
Having gone down to the Sydney Roosters on ANZAC Day just under a fortnight ago, the Red V will hope that the week off will do them a world of good, as they try and find the form they displayed at the start of the season.
However, they are going to have to do it against the hottest team in football.
The Bulldogs haven’t lost since Round 3, winning five straight and finding themselves sitting on the top of the table with a points differential of +65.
St George Illawarra have made several changes to the side that played on ANZAC Day, with Jason Nightingale being ruled out for a month with a knee injury, an injury he picked up while playing for the Kiwi’s last Friday.
Nathan Green shifts from the centre position out onto the wing, while Joel Thompson has been moved to the centres.
Finally, Michael Witt will play for the Illawarra Cutters this weekend, with Sam Williams making the jump up to first-grade.
Meanwhile, there is only one change to the Canterbury-Bankstown side that defeated the Newcastle Knights 16-12 at ANZ Stadium a fortnight ago, with Tim Lafai returning from a concussion, forcing Moses Mbye to drop back to a five-man bench.
While the Dragons have actually scored two more points more than the Bulldogs in 2014, the Belmore based club have a far superior defensive record, allowing an NRL low 13.2 points per game, compared to the St George Illawarra’s 22.8 ppg.
While the history is in favour of the Bulldogs, coming away with the two points on 16 of their 26 meetings against the Dragons, that won’t mean anything come Sunday.
In the two sides last meeting in Round 21 last season, Canterbury-Bankstown got over the top of the St George Illawarra 39-20 at Jubilee Oval, Kogarah.
Dan Hunt v James Graham
Hunt has managed to hold his position in the Dragons top 17 over the last month, playing all but two games so far in 2014.
The 27-year-old is yet to make an error so far this season, exceeding 100 metres on three occasions, while he has made at least 20 tackles in more than half his games.
He will be up against one of the most feared players in the game though in James Graham.
The Englishman is averaging 150 running metres a game, making hit-up after hit-up.
His biggest game of the year came against the Melbourne Storm in Round 4, where he made a line break and got across the line for his first and only try thus far this season.
Gareth Widdop v Josh Reynolds
Widdop will be looking to find the form he showed at the start of the season on Sunday, when he takes on Josh Reynolds, who is desperate to get his hands on a NSW Blues jersey.
The Englishman was a bit wayward with his kicking during the Dragons ANZAC Day clash with the Roosters, making only one of three attempts.
Josh Reynolds has been a big reason for the Bulldogs success of late, steering his side to five consecutive victories and a place on top of the table.
His boot alone won their Round 5 game against the Roosters, kicking a field goal in the dying stages on Canterbury’s way to a 9-8 win.
Ben Creagh v Tony Williams
One of the Dragons best on ANZAC Day, Ben Creagh led from the front, picking up his third try of the season, while running for a season high 147 metres and making two linebreaks in a losing effort.
He will need to replicate that performance if the Dragons are going to stop the Bulldogs recent form.
Tony Williams is certainly improving week by week.
The man mountain is averaging more than an offload a game this year, while recording just short of 12 runs and 107 metres a game.