Dragons v Warriors
WIN Jubilee Stadium
Two teams, two last-minute losses, 34 broken hearts - or 36 if you count the coaches. That is perhaps the apt way of summing up the Dragons and Warriors camps after they were both denied victories in the dying stages of their games last week.
The Warriors rode the buzz of having a new coach and looked much improved against the Bulldogs after Andrew McFadden made several changes to the team. The most notable of those was shifting Ben Matulino from the front row into the second row, where the big man caused havoc out wide with his offloads, which set up his side’s first two tries.
Matulino has a rib injury this week, but would have missed this game anyway due to suspension for a shoulder charge. In his place returns Jayson Bukuya, while Ben Henry comes in for Sebastine Ikahihifo who is out with a head knock.
The Dragons played for the full 80, and as it turns out a little bit more, against Melbourne last Monday, but still came home with nothing.
The team’s effort couldn’t be doubted, and that is reflected in the side for this week, with Steve Price naming an identical 17 to tackle the Warriors.
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Watch Out Dragons: Last week Warriors off-season recruit Sam Tomkins played his best game in the NRL, scoring the opening try and generally troubling the Bulldogs with his 17 runs and 146 total run metres. If you had him in your NRL Fantasy team his 45 points were nice too.
The Warriors took a step back to the style of game which we have come to know and love from them last Sunday. The offloads returned and with it came the ability to score points, which has been scarce for most of the year. If they are allowed to get it going they can do a lot of damage in a short space of time.
Watch Out Warriors: WIN Jubilee Stadium is the club’s worst away venue, having never won a game there in 10 attempts, dating back to the year 2000. In fact their record against the Dragons stinks full stop, having won just four of their 20 clashes over history. The last time the Warriors tasted victory over the Dragons, Queensland had only won three Origin series on the trot.
Josh Dugan looks to be on a mission to make up for lost time. In his second game back from injury last week he had 19 runs for 223 metres and broke an impressive nine tackles. He adds another dimension to this St George Illawarra team and should be even better this week having had the chance to work up some partnerships with Gareth Widdop and Michael Witt in the halves.
Plays To Watch: There are few better sights in rugby league than Brett Morris scoring a try in a tight space. The NSW representative has made an art of it, and his contribution against a Warriors team with often-poor fringe defence will be one to watch. The man they call B-Moz might be in for a big game.
On the few occasions Ngani Laumape was able to inject himself into the attack for the Warriors last week he looked very impressive. Watch for the New Zealanders to put him into space and isolate the much smaller Gerard Beale, who has the unenviable task of marking up on him.
Where It Will Be Won: Both sides have dynamic backlines, so the kicking game, and how it limits the effectiveness of those players, will be important to the final outcome. The Warriors had the game won against the Bulldogs, but surrendered the two competition points because they failed to close it out. Kicking was a big part of that and something Shaun Johnson in particular will need to improve on against the Dragons.
St George Illawarra will look to find success by targeting Manu Vatuvei and rookie Fusitua with the high ball, and can also try to exploit big bodies like Laumape with a grubber in behind. Whoever stands up from the halves could be the hero.
The History: Played 21; Dragons 17, Warriors 4. The Warriors losing in Wollongong is almost a tradition, and if they are to win this weekend they will break one of the longest-standing hoodoos in the competition. The Dragons have claimed the previous eight encounters, the last being a 31-12 thrashing at Eden Park just last month.
Despite the one-sided form guide it’s not all bad news for the Warriors. On their last trip to this stadium they were right in it until the end, going down 19-10.
What Are The Odds: Sportsbet.com.au reports the Dragons are the favourites ($1.60) but the money is virtually even. The Warriors ($2.40) have been really well backed at the line of 4.5.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Chris James; Touch Judges – Paul Holland & Adam Reid.
Televised: Live Fox Sports, 5.30pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: Both these teams played well enough to win last week and will hope to bring that quality to this clash. Despite all of the turmoil surrounding the club recently it is the Warriors who come in with better form behind them, having lost only two on the trot compared to the Dragons' three.
In this case history can’t really be ignored. The Warriors don’t often beat the Dragons and they never beat them on the patch of grass they will run out on this Saturday. 'Tis the season for upset victories, but not in this one. Dragons by 20 points.