The world according to Wendell Sailor suggests there is no reason to panic and the wheels haven’t fallen off the Dragons’ premiership assault.
Big Dell has been quoted a million times saying as much. But let’s look at this objectively shall we?
The side was cruising on a seven-match winning streak before being toppled by Canberra in Canberra. Many predicted this result – including nrl.com thanks to their poor record against the Raiders and the need to break the shackles of a long streak.
However, most also predicted they would right the ship against the Broncos the following week as they were playing in Wollongong where they were previously unbeaten. And while Brisbane had pummelled Penrith the week before, their form, particularly defensively, has been awful in 2009.
Instead we saw a Brisbane unit fire up defensively and a Dragons side seemingly devoid of attacking ideas and discipline… a worrying sign for Dragons fans.
But in the ‘glass-half-full’ version, big Dell is somewhat right. The side hasn’t been getting flogged and just a little more mental application and focus on what had worked previously could easily have them back on track for a minor premiership.
They remain first in the NRL thanks to differential (something which no doubt infuriates Bulldogs supporters who have had two points stripped for an interchange bungle and a game against the Dragons wrongfully taken from them) but cannot afford any slip-ups if they are to remain there.
They now face up against old rivals South Sydney whose faint finals hopes were snuffed out by the Panthers last weekend, but who still have pride to play for.
South Sydney have stuck with the same 17 players who lost to the Panthers, while the Dragons welcome back lock Neville Costigan which pushes Jarrod Saffy to the bench and Chase Stanley out of the side. Jason Nightingale and Jon Green have been named as extra reserves.
Watch out Rabbitohs: The Dragons’ winning ways earlier in the year came off the back of disciplined attack and territorial advantage. So far this season they lead the NRL in both metres across the ground (1449 metres a match), and from the boot (712 metres a match) which gives them great field position and limits the impact of the opposition attack.
The Bunnies by comparison gain 1294 metres across the ground and 587 metres from the boot leaving them with a significant shortfall to make up here.
To combat this, the Rabbitohs need to move up off their defensive line hard as a unit to meet the Dragons’ forwards at the advantage line and they need to work hard from marker on the early tackles when the backs are eating up metres.
They also need to find a way to get at Jamie Soward’s kicking game to limit his decision-making time and precision.
Watch out Dragons: Wayne Bennett has been lamenting the lack of discipline shown by the Dragons in their back-to-back losses and if they fail to bring it to this clash they could easily get burned a third time in a row.
While Bennett was talking about all-around discipline, like working as a unit in defence and sticking to the attacking game plan and making minimal errors, the discipline to stay within the rules will also be paramount here.
South Sydney are the second most disciplined side in the NRL when it comes to conceding penalties, with just 109 for the year, while the Dragons are 12th with 142 penalties conceded. If they give up easy field position, territory and possession through penalties the Rabbitohs won’t need much of an invitation.
It is imperative the Dragons return to the clinical-style of football that bought them much joy earlier in the year.
Where it will be won: Defence in the green zone and yardage areas. A rugby league field can be divided into a green zone, a yardage (or yellow) zone and a red zone. When in attack the green zone is your opposition’s 20-metre line to their try line; the red zone is your 20-metre line to try line; and the yardage zone being the space between both 20-metre lines.
While goal-line defence (red-zone defence) is obviously critical in all games, the biggest test for both defences could well come from further out in this clash. Both teams are adept at scoring long-range tries (those from your own side of halfway).
The Dragons have 16 so far for the season, the Rabbitohs 15, to be two of the NRL’s better sides. Don’t be surprised to see the teams chance their arm a little from distance. Both teams also like to use attacking kicks when close to the line, so we could see a kick-fest as well.
The history: Played 13; Rabbitohs 2, Dragons 11. The Rabbitohs’ only win this decade against the Dragons came in 2007. There have been just two clashes at ANZ Stadium between the sides, with the Red V winning comfortably on both occasions. The combined score of the two matches was 70-26.
Conclusion: This game should have St George Illawarra victory written all over it but back-to-back losses may have dented their confidence a little.
The Rabbitohs have absolutely nothing to lose so their brief should be to go out there and have some fun. Young centre Junior Vaivai looks a good prospect so hopefully he is given some quality ball to showcase his skills and get him ready for a longer stint in the top grade in the future.
You pretty much should still tip the Dragons, as conventional wisdom suggests they will steady their campaign by pulling apart a side with less to play for – but don’t spend the winnings just yet.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Daniel Eastwood; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.