By Nathan Beuman
The St George Illawarra Dragons will commence their new campaign against the Melbourne Storm at Jubilee Oval, Kogarah on Monday (kick-off 7.00pm).
Head Coach Paul McGregor has named a 19-man squad for the opening round Emergency Services clash which will see both local Hurstville United junior prop Rory O’Brien and Fijian international winger Eto Nabuli potentially make their first-grade debuts.
Furthermore, new recruit Dane Nielsen and George Rose, both of whom have previously played for the Storm, as well as hooker Heath L’Estrange have all been named in the extended squad.
Following an impressive pre-season that saw him named the Indigenous All-Stars game Man of the Match, Rose, 31, has been rewarded with a starting spot against the side he made nine appearances for last season.
“Melbourne have been a quality side for a number of years, so it will be a great test for us as a squad to see where we are at,” said Rose.
“We have done a lot of hard work, so it will be great if we can measure that up against some quality sides, and Melbourne is probably one of the better ones to do that against.”
Despite a disappointing start to their pre-season, the Storm managed to win their final two trial matches against the Eastern Suburbs Tigers (44-12) and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (32-30).
While the Storm enters the match with one of the least experienced backlines in the Club’s recent memory, the naming of captain Cameron Smith despite an ankle injury, will boost the visitor’s confidence.
Paul McGregor has made only two changes to the side that defeated the Warrington Wolves 18-12 just a fortnight ago, with Mike Cooper being added to the bench after he was forced to miss the match following the birth of his son.
George Rose forces himself into the starting 13, while Heath L’Estrange comes onto an extended six-man bench.
Despite reportedly being ruled out for the first month of the season following off-season ankle surgery, Cameron Smith has been named to start in the number nine jersey, while Blake Green will play his first game back in the NRL since 2010 at five-eighth.
Melbourne have had the wood over Dragons in recent times having won 19 encounters from their past 27 meetings.
The Dragons will be hoping to add to their seven wins during this period.
The battle between the two sides last year was split, with each team holding serve on their home field.
Game Day Information
St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm
Gates Open: 4:30 pm
NYC: 4:45 pm
NRL: 7:00 pm