NRL Preview: Round 16 v Newcastle Knights
St George Illawarra Dragons v Newcastle Knights
UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
The St George Illawarra Dragons will have to be careful against the Knights, who will look to put the disappointment of their controversial last start loss to the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles behind them.
While the Dragons won’t need any added motivation after back-to-back losses, a win for Paul Vaughan’s 100th career game will make it taste much sweeter.
Despite Jack de Belin being suspended for the clash, the Dragons welcome back fullback Josh Dugan and second-rower Tyson Frizell from New South Wales Origin duties.
In an added boost for the Red V, centre Euan Aitken has been named as one of five reserves for the game and may potentially feature for the Dragons.
Unlike the Dragons, Knights head coach Nathan Brown has named an unchanged 1-17 line-up.
The teams will play for the Alex McKinnon Cup on Sunday, with the trophy's namesake set to make his first appearance at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah since 2013.
McKinnon – who made his NRL debut at the Dragons in 2011 before moving to the Knights where his career was tragically cut short in 2014 – was excited for the third-annual Cup clash.
"I played under 20s at the Dragons when I was 16 so we were always following the first-grade team around. My parents were great supporters and my Nan would always come to the game," McKinnon said.
"I had my NRL debut at Kogarah too so that will always be a fond memory."
Dragons: 1. Josh Dugan, 2. Nene Macdonald, 3. Kurt Mann, 4. Tim Lafai, 5. Jason Nightingale, 6. Gareth Widdop (c), 7. Josh McCrone, 8. Russell Packer, 9. Cameron McInnes, 10. Paul Vaughan, 11. Tariq Sims, 12. Joel Thompson, 13. TBA. Interchange: 14. Jacob Host, 15. Leeson Ah Mau, 16. Hame Sele, 17. Taane Milne, 18. Will Matthews, 19. Tyson Frizell, 20. Blake Lawrie, 21. Euan Aitken, 22. Matt Dufty.
Knights: 1. Dane Gagai, 2. Ken Sio, 3. Brendan Elliott, 4. Peter Mata'utia, 5. Nathan Ross, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Jaelen Feeney, 8. Daniel Saifiti, 9. Danny Levi, 10. Josh Starling, 11. Sione Mata'utia, 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 13. Mitchell Barnett. Interchange: 14. Luke Yates, 15. Josh King, 16. Tyler Randell, 17. Jacob Saifiti, 18. Sam Mataora, 19. Jacob Gagan, 20. Trent Hodkinson, 21. Tom Hughes.
Key Match-Up: Josh Dugan vs. Dane Gagai: Both backing up from Origin on Wednesday night, the two fullbacks could prove to be the difference on Sunday afternoon. While Dugan is averaging 45 more running metres a game than Gagai, the Newcastle No. 1 has the fifth most tackle busts in the competition with 71.
The History: Played 33; Dragons 23, Knights 10. The Dragons have won 10 of the last 12 games against the Knights, dating back to 2010, including their last four clashes at UOW Jubilee Oval.
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Gee. Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline Officials: Jason Walsh and Clayton Sharpe.
Televised: Fox League – Live coverage from 1:30pm
Radio: ABC and 2GB