Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com
Dragons v Wests Tigers
Sydney Cricket Ground
Anything could happen in this clash – a match that pitches the lowly 14th- placed Dragons against the even-lower 15th-placed Tigers.
Both teams enter this meeting feeling pretty darn sorry for themselves – and their supporters – after even more heartache last weekend. It’s a bold statement for two clubs anchored to the foot of the table and completely out of finals contention, but in the past seven days even more salt has been rubbed into some gaping wounds.
The Dragons snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against the Sharks in Wollongong last Saturday – the home side conceding a late try to topple 22-18 to a Cronulla side that committed a whopping 18 errors. On top of that, club legend Matt Cooper announced his retirement on Tuesday.
It hasn’t been a wonderful week for the Dragons, a side that have won just six matches all season and have now lost four consecutive matches.
The Tigers, meanwhile, continue to unravel like a roll of toilet paper tumbling down a flight of stairs. It looked promising for the first 40 minutes against the Roosters last Monday night – then they conceded seven tries and a total of 42 points in the second half! They too haven’t tasted sweet success for an extended period, winless in their past six matches! The Roosters result has been compounded by pin-up star Benji Marshall’s woeful form – and his walk out on the club and the code at the end of the year.
“Where to from here?” Tigers fans could be forgiven for asking.
The Dragons have named the same side that suffered that heartbreaking loss to the Sharks last week. They have, however, added Will Matthews and Craig Garvey to the 16-man squad coach Steve Price called on against Cronulla.
For the Tigers, the only change to their starting line-up comes in the centres, with Bodene Thompson replacing the injured Blake Ayshford (fractured eye socket), who has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Shaun Spence and Jack Buchanan have been added to a now-six-man bench which will need to be culled prior to kick-off.
The fixture commemorates the 50th anniversary – to the day and time – of the 1963 grand final between the St George Dragons and the Western Suburbs Magpies. And, of course, the famous ‘Gladiators’ moment between Arthur Summons and Norm Provan at the end of the famous match.
Watch Out Dragons: It’s hard to find danger signs emanating from a club that have won just six games all season, but there’s one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny little stat that gives the Tigers fans some cause for optimism. Last time they were smashed by 50 points or more, they turned it around the following week:Mick Potter’s men followed their 54-10 shellacking at the hands of the Rabbitohs in Round 10 with a 22-20 win against the Cowboys. After last week’s 56-14 hiding to the Roosters, maybe, just maybe, they can rebound.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: The stats show the Dragons love playing at the SCG. St George Illawarra have won seven of eight matches played on Sydney’s most famous turf, and on average concede just 13.6 points at the venue.
Plays To Watch: Despite their woes this season, there’s still plenty for fans to keep an eye on in this clash: St George Illawarra’s full-speed-ahead fullback Jason Nightingale charging around at 100 miles per hour; Tigers backs David Nofoaluma and Tim Simona scorching the edges; skilful forwards Ben Creagh and Adam Blair popping passes; Dragons five-eighth Adam Quinlan chipping and chasing; a few more Benji Marshall ‘hail Mary’ plays, for good measure, before he farewells rugby league.
Key Match-Up: Adam Quinlan and Benji Marshall face off in the defining personal battle of this clash. Quinlan’s a rising star and Benji’s a fading one – and both will be desperate to lead their side to a rare victory for very different reasons. In just five games in the top grade former under-20s fullback Quinlan has proven elusive and creative – as his three line-breaks, two line-break assists, two try assists and three tries indicate. The below-his-best Marshall, though, has recorded just four line-breaks, six line-break assists, seven try assists and five tries in 17 matches. That being said, though, Marshall’s a bona fide superstar – a premiership-winning playmaker who’s captained his country – and Quinlan’s a rookie. It’s master and apprentice stuff. Whoever creates a higher number and greater quality of opportunities should secure their team the two points.
Where It Will Be Won: Like every game, this will be won on points. But these two teams struggle more than most others in the NRL at crossing their opponents’ stripe and kicking the ball between the uprights – the Tigers score an average of just 14.9 per game, while the Dragons aren’t much better with just 15.2. Which team is more capable of getting creative and working out a way to crack their opponents… and finally get the scoreboard attendant to earn his keep?
The History: Played 26; Dragons 14, Tigers 12.
Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Brenden Wood; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Justin Morgan.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Dragons v Wests Tigers clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 3pm.
The Way We See It: This could – and in many ways should – turn into a touch football-style game of rugby league. Both sides look best when throwing the ball around and, with little to play for across the rest of the season, fans would appreciate the entertainment, too. Unless Benji rediscovers his far-off finest, expect the Dragons to triumph here after going so close against the Sharks last week. St George Illawarra by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.