The St George Illawarra Dragons come up against the competition-leading Melbourne Storm on Thursday night at WIN Stadium, Wollongong. With both teams heavily weakened from State of Origin, the outcome of the match is far from certain.
The missing 11
The State of Origin decider is just around the corner with New South Wales striving to retain the title from an equally desperate Queensland team. However the commitment of five Dragons to the game means they will be sorely missed at the Dragons. Tyson Frizell, Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims, Ben Hunt and Corey Norman were all named in their respective State of Origin sides and will miss the Dragons clash. Although Sims will now miss both games due to suspension. The Storm are without Josh Addo-Carr, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Christian Welch, Dale Finucane and Felise Kaufusi.
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Chopped and changed
With the Origin contingent mentioned above missing from the team, the Dragons will rely on its depth. Jai Field and Darren Nicholls headline these changes; the Canterbury Cup Dragons halves have been given the chance to showcase their partnership in the NRL. The pair have guided the CC Dragons to the top two spots on the ladder and will look to continue that partnership in first grade.
Jeremy Latimore and Korbin Sims form a new look front row, while Blake Lawrie and Luciano Leilua shift to the back row. The bench also features plenty of new faces that include Josh Kerr. Recent signing Patrick Kaufusi and journeyman Mitch Allgood will make their club debuts for the club.
Nicholls' second chance
A seasoned veteran of the rugby league lower grades, Darren Nicholls will get his second opportunity in the NRL against the same team he debuted against last year. Nicholls faced the Storm in Round 17, 2018 in a high-scoring 82-point thriller.
Nicholls was initially a Wests Tigers Under-20s player way back in 2008 before playing two years in France. He returned to Australia to play for Wyong before he linked with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2013.
Joining the Broncos in 2014, he linked up again with the Rabbitohs the season following before re-joining Brisbane in 2016. Nicholls would be a Panther in 2017 where he captained the team to NRL State Championship success.
Nicholls signed a two-year deal with the Dragons last year, with the Red V handing the then 29-year-old his long-anticipated NRL debut.
In what was an emotional debut, Nicholls was captured tearing up and embracing his family after the match. For the second time around in his 11-year senior rugby league career, Nicholls will do everything he can to get secure his maiden NRL victory.
Storm in the ‘Gong
There aren’t too many areas the Melbourne Storm don’t dominate. Leading the NRL in both attack and defence, on top of boasting the most tries scored and goals converted is enough to worry most teams.
The Storm haven't been able to find their feet at WIN Stadium however, winning just five of 11 matches. With plenty to play for, the Dragons will be determined to maintain this advantage over the Storm on Thursday.
While the Dragons are fielding rookies in the halves, so too are the Melbourne Storm. Billy Walters, son of Queensland Origin coach Kevin Walters, will make his NRL debut at the age of 25.
Stemming from a rich rugby league pedigree, the impact Walters has on his first NRL game will be an interesting watch.