The Dragons have a tough assignment against outright competition leaders the Melbourne Storm on Thursday, July 4 at WIN Stadium, Wollongong.
Across 36 matches the Storm holds a distinct advantage over the Dragons with 25 victories, including five of the past seven games. However, the Dragons can take confidence in the fact Melbourne have only won five of 11 matches in the 'Gong.
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The Storm are the benchmark of the competition in 2019, losing only two games and holding a six-point lead at the top of the table. Craig Bellamy's men also lay claim to both the best attack and best defence in the competition in comparison to the Dragons who rank 10th in attack and 13th in defence.
The Storm also leads the competition in tries (59), conversions (61) and kick return metres (3,070), while ranking inside the top five in support plays (1,874), completion rate (80 per cent), line breaks (58), try assists (40) and line-break assists (36).
The Dragons rank inside the top five in only total kick metres (8,774), intercepts (seven) and field goals (three). However, the Red V does have the edge over Melbourne in tackle busts (371) and offloads (123) – two areas they will look to hurt the Storm.
Smith has broken almost every record in the NRL throughout his 398-game career, and his experience will have a significant role in the outcome of the match.
With seven try assists, four line break assists and seven forced line dropouts – all while converting goals at 82 per cent – it's easy to see his influence on the team. In defence, Smith has made the sixth-most tackles of any player (571) at an impressive efficiency of 92.3 per cent.
With both teams expected to field multiple debutants and rookies due to State of Origin III, Smith's experience and guidance in the middle of the field will have a lasting impact.
Korbin Sims v Jesse Bromwich
These two heavyweights will cause WIN Stadium to shake when they come face-to-face.
Sims and Bromwich are no strangers to hard runs and big hits and will take their role to another level with both teams missing key members in the forward pack.
Bromwich is enjoying another stellar season with 28 tackle breaks, four tries, and 1807 total running metres this season.
Sims's season numbers are slightly deflated due to his early-season broken arm but the Fiji Bati captain will play increased minutes with players on representative duties.
In just 31 minutes last week against the Cowboys, Sims had nine runs for 87 metres, two tackle breaks and 13 tackles. Look for Sims to raise his game to match the New Zealand international.
Matt Dufty v Ryan Papenhuyzen
Two young, fast and exciting fullbacks will look to be the spark that ignites their team to victory.
Following a brief stint in the Canterbury Cup NSW, Dufty returned to the top grade and has produced some brilliant results. With four tries this season and two try assists, Dufty is a key cog in the Dragons attack with his blistering pace a huge advantage.
Papenhuyzen has exploded on to the scene this year since his Round 4 debut. Coming off the bench or starting at fullback, it doesn't matter for the 21-year-old who has racked up four tries, four try assists and seven line breaks.