There’s already a lot of feeling – you could almost say bad blood – between Canterbury-Bankstown and St George Illawarra, with suburban borders creating tension over the years. A 75-year history hasn’t become any less contentious of late either, with last year’s Kogarah encounter still very much in the forefront of many Bulldogs players and fans’ minds.
The second match-up for season 2010 should be much different to when they first met in Round 2. Then, the Dragons were playing near-flawless football, while the Bulldogs were struggling to find the rhythm that served them so well last year. A Brett Morris hat-trick gave him early bragging rights over his brother – but it’s time for Round 2 and with Josh’s return from injury, he’ll want to add some four-pointers to his name to keep in touch with his twin.
Last year not much separated these sides, but there’s been plenty of differences in this season’s comp. The Dragons have dropped just two games at this point and sit in first with a far superior points differential of 111 to the second-placed Titans. St George Illawarra have let in just 95 points across nine rounds of play (at a meagre rate of 1.7 tries a game), while the Bulldogs can thank their Round 3 drubbing of the Roosters for the ninth place spot and a positive differential of just 16 points.
Crossing the line hasn’t been too great an issue for Canterbury (they’re third and second for points and tries scored), with them more often than not being first to post points, but their discipline, handling and completion rates have been a weak spot. This week they’ve said they’ll be focusing on their own preparation rather than worrying about their opposition, and that’s probably the best approach when facing the leaders. They’ve had gradual improvement with completing their sets, with their past two matches being more than 80 per cent, but keeping in the referees’ good books plays to their favour with two of their three wins coming when they’ve kept their penalty count to less than their opposition.
The Dragons, on the other hand, have lost a little of their early steam, but are still the team everyone has as their goal to beat this year.
Last week they were lacklustre against a Manly side on the up, but don’t expect that to last long, as they turned their only other loss – 17-4 away to Melbourne – into a more than comfortable a 34-16 victory over the Broncos a week later.
Jason Nightingale and Michael Weyman return to the line-up this week after being rested following their representative efforts and they’ll add a lot of go-forward to their side, which looked a little tired at Brookvale last Saturday.
Watch out Dragons: There’s a 19-year-old lurking on the right flank and he’s gathering strength and confidence with each passing week.
Jamal Idris was a little rusty in his debut representative performance for Country last week, but as the match went on, he improved. The same has been going at club level. Settled now with a new wing partner, Idris isn’t afraid of anyone, as the match against Parramatta showed – he stood up to dual international Timana Tahu and then left the experienced Eel grasping at his dust.
He’s averaging 113 metres a game and has five tries, five line-breaks, 57 tackle breaks and 10 offloads to his name. He’s willing to chance his hand, and once he gets some speed up and starts powering towards the line, he’s hard to stop.
Watch out Bulldogs: Last week there were five Dragons who travelled for rep duty, but one player missed out on a ticket to Melbourne – and he’s leading the Dally M standings after putting together a number of man-of-the-match performances.
Darius Boyd has been the silent assassin in the Dragons’ line-up, slotting into the attack for that extra edge. While most teams have their eyes on the left wing and leading try-scorer Brett Morris – and why wouldn’t they? – Boyd has been quietly going about his business.
He may not have a four-pointer to his name yet, but he’s credited with nine try assists (the Dragons have tallied 29 this season), four line-breaks and is averaging 145 metres a game. Plus, his average missed tackle rate per game is less than one – that’s a fullback you can trust.
Where it will be won: It’s obvious, but if the Bulldogs can shut down the Dragons’ left wing and nullify the impact of Boyd, they’re in with a shot.
Idris ranks among the top one-on-one tacklers (eighth) and has shown he can step up for the big games now. He also has the belief in his ability, so is definitely up to the task on Friday night.
The Bulldogs’ threat is more across the park and they score a lot of tries from kicks and line-breaks (75 per cent), so the Dragons’ defence will need to be up tight and in their face to put the pressure on the decision makers.
The history: Played: 19; Bulldogs 12, Dragons 7. The past three times these two have played the Dragons have won them all, with the previous seven going the way of the ’Dogs. The Bulldogs are still after blood from last season’s controversial loss at Kogarah and will also want to reverse the poor showing at Wollongong earlier this year.
Conclusion: The Bulldogs have some manpower returning this week, with Josh Morris named and Dene Halatau coming onto the bench for just his second appearance this season.
It’ll be a different game to what was witnessed in Round 2, with it being on Canterbury’s turf and a bit further into the season. But with the Dragons coming off a loss it’s hard to see their disciplined side going down again.
St George Illawarra are patient and they’ll hold in there to take the game in the second half.
Match officials: Referees: Tony Archer & Bernard Sutton; Sideline officials: Steve Chiddy & David Abood; Video Ref: Bill Harrigan.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.35pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – delayed 11.30pm.