Dragons v Bulldogs Preview

Dragons v Bulldogs
WIN Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Nervous bookmakers would have been twiddling in the premiership odds for Wayne Bennett’s Dragons after last week’s disciplined 16-12 away win over the Eels.

The Red V ravaged their opposition with nearly 400 more metres of territory (1404 to 1019), committing just three errors in the process (to the Eels’ three) and restricting Jarryd Hayne to just 93 metres – one of the few times he’s likely to finish short of triple figures all year.

But the win came at a price – they’ve lost hooker Nathan Fien, who was responsible for each of their two tries last week, for the season with a broken leg. This has seen Luke Priddis elevated to the starting line-up; elsewhere, prop Matt Prior moves from stop-gap centre to his rightful no.8 jersey, with last-week’s benchman Nick Emmett joining Beau Scott in the centres.

The Bulldogs possibly had their eye on this week when they trotted out for their Round 1 clash with the Knights last week. They were spanked by a Newcastle side that obviously rallied and united in the face of off-field drama, but also won fair and square on talent.

Conversely, the Bulldogs were woeful at times, and their cause wasn’t helped by their missing 38 tackles.

Michael Ennis’ one-game suspension is a huge blow; his place at hooker is filled by Blake Green, while either the returning-from-injury Bryson Goodwin (wing) or Steve Turner will assume the goal-kicking role in his absence.

This game marks the premiership showdown between Morris twins Brett (Dragons) and Josh (Bulldogs) after Josh missed the clash between the sides in Round 10 last year with injury.

Watch out Dragons: The Bulldogs have pace to burn out wide. Steve Turner and Jamal Idris each looked ominous making two line-breaks apiece last week and perhaps the best tactic for the visitors will be to shift the ball often and fast.

The home side should also be careful that rookie Ben Barba doesn’t fly under their radar – last week in just nine minutes of game time he conjured two try assists, two tackle breaks and two line-break assists. He’s some talent.

Watch out Bulldogs: When you hold onto the ball, you build continuity and grow in confidence. And it delivers your playmakers time to direct the troops and build a platform from which good territory is made.

And that was the story for the Dragons last week – three of their forwards made huge inroads, Michael Weyman (17 runs for 145 metres), Jeremy Smith (18 runs for 137 metres) and Dan Hunt (15 runs for 125 metres).

It was nothing particularly flashy; rather a relentless grind that saw the Eels defence back on their heels. Top Bulldogs defenders Ben Hannant (44 tackles last week, third in NRL) and Andrew Ryan (39 tackles) will need to focus and direct their defenders well.

Where it will be won: The kicking games of both sides will be crucial, as the pressure applied can lead to mistakes. For the Bulldogs, it’s fingers crossed they can generate some heat here, because the Dragons conceded just three errors against the Eels last week.

However, having Ennis seated on the sideline is a massive blow. Last week he found open space four of five kicks – this week Kimmorley will need to step into the breach.

Down the other end Jamie Soward found space seven of 10 kicks. Plus, he booted for 631 metres (19 kicks in total).

The Bulldogs can’t afford to tally anywhere near their 16 errors from last week; against the most disciplined side in the NRL it could be a massacre in the making.

The History: Played 18; Bulldogs 12, Dragons 6. Yikes! The Dragons have won just two of the past eight clashes – a controversial 20-18 win at Kogarah in Round 10 last year and their biggest head-to-head win, a 30-nil towelling at ANZ Stadium. Incredibly, the ’Dogs are undefeated at Wollongong in four attempts.
 
Conclusion: The Dragons completed 94 per cent of their sets last week – the Bulldogs did well to get through 65 per cent of theirs. This week, without Michael Ennis, they’ll find it even harder to get through tackle six without a blunder.

The Dragons still look predictable hammering the left side with their attack. It didn’t work last week but we can only think Wayne Bennett must be of the opinion that sooner or later, the dam will burst, and the likes of Brett Morris and fringe-runner Ben Creagh will register abundant four-pointers. And we tend to agree.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Adam Devcich; Video ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live from 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld). Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 11.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.