Match Preview: Round 13
The St George Illawarra Dragons will look to claim two points when they host the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at WIN Stadium, Wollongong on Saturday.
After an Origin effected preparation for last Monday nights game against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Head Coach Paul McGregor will finally get his first opportunity to get his side ready for the local derby clash.
McGregor has made a couple of changes to the side that took the field against South Sydney on Monday night, with Shane Pumipi expected to get an opportunity to start at hooker following the one game suspension of Mitch Rein.
Trent Merrin has been named at lock despite being shifted back to the bench just prior to kickoff against the Rabbitohs, while Jack De Belin (NSW Cup) and Mike Cooper (neck injury) have been added up onto an extended five-man bench.
Meanwhile, following the massive injury toll to come out of Cronulla’s 18-0 loss to the Rabbitohs a fortnight ago, Sharks Head Coach Peter Sharp has been forced to make a slew of changes to his 17-man side.
Nathan Gardner will make his return to first grade at fullback, with Michael Gordon being shifted into the centres following the injury of Ricky Leutele.
Nathan Stapleton will get an opportunity to impress on the wing with Sosaia Feki also being ruled out through injury.
Centre Jacob Gagan and five-eighth Fa’amanu Brown will both make their NRL debuts Saturday night against the Dragons, with Jonathan Wright and Daniel Holdsworth being forced out through injury.
Finally, Siosaia Vave gets a crack at prop, with Sam Tagataese dropping back to the bench, while Luke Lewis regains his spot in the second row after being missing out against Souths through Origin.
Attack will be the main point of emphasis for both sides at training this week, with Cronulla and St George Illawarra struggling to score points in recent weeks.
The Sharks didn’t trouble the scoreboard attendant at Remondis Stadium a fortnight ago (18-0 South Sydney), while the Dragons have only managed 16-points in total in the last three games combined.
With Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop having spent yet another full week at training under the watchful eye of Paul McGregor, Dragons supporters will be hoping for a better attacking performance from their halves pairing.
St George Illawarra have won three of their last four and seven of their last ten against their across town rivals, dating back to 2009.
The Dragons also have the upper hand at WIN Stadium, taking the competition points on two of their last three matchups against the Sharks.
Gareth Widdop v Fa’amanu Brown
After a cracking start to the season, Widdop has remained quiet in his most recent outings. The English international is averaging more than two errors a game since round two, while missing 15 tackles over the last three weeks.
He will be up against one of the future stars of the game, in young Fa’amanu Brown, who will make his NRL debut Saturday night in Wollongong.
Having just signed a new three year extension with the club, the 19 year old will be keen to impress Head Coach Peter Sharp.
Trent Merrin v Chris Heighington
Despite playing for 60 minutes off the back of a massive Origin performance in Game 1, Merrin racked up 32 tackles, while making nine hit ups for 100 metres.
The Shellharbour Sharks junior has been one of the most consistent players for the big Red V this year, averaging 130 metres and 40 tackles a game to date.
Meanwhile, Cronulla lock Chris Heighington gets an opportunity in the run on side for only the second time this season following a number of injuries to key players a fortnight ago.
After being asked to play 62 minutes against the Rabbitohs, Heighington stepped up, making 20 runs for 160 metres gained, although his six errors will certainly be cause for concern.