Photo by Colin Whelan copyright © nrlphotos.com :       Benji Marshall grabbed by Billy Slater                        NRL Rugby League, Round 16 St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm at Wollongong, Monday June 30th 2014.

Match Preview: Round 17

The St George Illawarra Dragons will be looking to make it three straight wins when they take on the North Queensland Cowboys at Jubilee Oval, Kogarah on Saturday (5:30pm).

With a special tribute to Immortal Reg Gasnier prior to kickoff, the home side will surely lift in front of a crowd that will feature some of the games greatest former players.

Having won back-to-back games against the Gold Coast Titans and Melbourne Storm over the last fortnight, the Dragons confidence will be at an all time high under the coaching of Paul McGregor.

Despite pulling off a gutsy 20-18 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs last Saturday night, the North Queensland Cowboys will travel down to Sydney without the aid of their captain Jonathan Thurston, or the leader of their forward pack James Tamou, who are both out through Origin duties.

With both sides sitting in 11th and 12th position on the competition table respectively, a win by either team will see them on the cusp of a spot in the top eight.

Team Changes

Paul McGregor has been forced to make several changes from the team that took the field last Monday night, with Peter Mata’utai being called up from the Illawarra Cutters to take the spit of Blues centre Josh Dugan.

With Trent Merrin also in camp with the Blues in Coffs Harbour, McGregor has named an extended six man bench, with Dylan Farrell, Dan Hunt and Jack Stockwell all being selected.

North Queensland head coach Paul Green has also been forced to make a number of positional changes ahead of Saturday nights game, with Matthew Wright moving from the centres to fullback, covering for Michael Morgan who has been shifted into Thurston’s vacant #7 jersey.

Meanwhile, new signing Tautau Moga will make his debut for the Cowboys, being named at centre, while Aston Sims has been named in the front row for the all important clash.

Finally, North Queensland have added both Sam Hoare and Ben Spina to an extended five man bench.

Recent Form

The Dragons are starting to hit their toward the back end of the season, winning three of their last four, while conceding an average of only 12 points per game over that stretch.

Sitting only two points out of the top eight, and four points off South Sydney in fourth position, a win on Saturday night against the Cowboys would place the Red V nicely for a charge at the finals over the remaining nine rounds of the competition.

The Cowboys may have been disappointing with their 7-8 record, but Paul Green will surely take some solace out of the fact that his side has a positive for and against of 63 points, the sixth best in the competition.

This impressive for and against is off the back largely of their recent attacking stats, with North Queensland averaging 25 points per game since the end of April, which is one of the best in the competition over that period.

Head to Head

The Cowboys have had the wood over the Dragons in recent times, having won three straight against St George Illawarra, including two straight at WIN Stadium, Wollongong.

However, the Dragons have dominated their neighbours from up north at Kogarah, winning three of the four matchups between the two sides.

Nathan Beuman