Dragons v Eels Preview

Dragons v Eels
WIN Jubilee Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Two great rivals come together looking to spark a return to form after both sides slumped to surprise losses last week.

The Dragons might be co-competition leaders on 16 points but they’ve now lost two of their past three and last week suffered a massive blow heading into the Origin period when they lost some depth in the form of talented prop Dan Hunt to a torn Achilles tendon in the warm-up to the Raiders game.

Coach Wayne Bennett will be monitoring the Origin recoveries of six of his best – Darius Boyd, Brett Morris, Matt Cooper, Michael Weyman, Neville Costigan and Ben Creagh, who missed last week’s 22-14 defeat in Wollongong while away in camp.    

Meanwhile the Eels were just without Jarryd Hayne when they gave up the ghost to the Sharks (22-18) at Parramatta Stadium last weekend.

Clearly Dragons coach Wayne Bennett has less to worry about given the massive disruptions to his team last week – but the there’s still some pressure to perform for the Red V faithful back at Kogarah for the first time in 2010.

Eels coach Daniel Anderson has bluntly told his side they need to get their focus right, accusing players of a lackadaisical attitude during their first game back at Parramatta since Round 5.
 
The loss to the Sharks severed their four-game winning streak; they sit sixth on the ladder on 12 points, where they are joined by four other sides.

Watch out Dragons: For whatever reason, the Dragons are susceptible to bogey sides and individuals arguably more than any other side in the comp. They have trouble when facing teams like the Storm and the Raiders – and absolutely hate coming up against Jarryd Hayne.

In the first week of the finals last year, Hayne ran for an incredible 208 metres, made 17 tackle-breaks, three line-breaks, a try assist and scored a freakish solo try in their 25-12 win.

When the Dragons bettered the Eels 18-12 in Round 1, Hayne was restricted to just 93 metres, one tackle-break – and didn’t make a line-break. If they can’t keep him similarly quiet, they’ll pay.

Whether they can muffle Hayne depends on the boot of Jamie Soward, who has appeared a little rushed in 2010, despite kicking more times than any player (164, average 488 metres a game). In the forecast wet conditions, Soward can’t afford to give Hayne any leeway.

Watch out Eels:
While the Dragons’ left-side scoring prowess is well documented (23 tries left to just nine right), don’t be surprised to see some relentless pressuring of Luke Burt on the Eels’ left wing.

Dragons right-side centre Beau Scott is a master of the offload – he has a team-high 17 for the year – and has made 22 tackle-breaks.

Meanwhile, Burt is a defensive liability for the Eels – he’s made just 21 tackles all year and missed 10, returning a woeful tackling efficiency of 63.6 per cent.

Look for Scott to link with Dragons’ right winger Jason Nightingale and be involved in at least one try.

Where it will be won:
Attitude and the bounce-back factor – which side wants it most?

The Eels have no excuses for last week’s miserable performance against the Sharks. They had minimum disruption to their roster but still failed to knuckle down to the task.

The Dragons had three kids on debut – the most by any side in 2010 – and lost Hunt and also Nick Emmett during proceedings, so there are some excuses.

Origin back-ups and fatigue factor aside, it all boils down to which coach is the master motivator.

Also, as with all games in Sydney this weekend, errors and retaining possession will play a huge role in outcomes. The Dragons are getting through their sets with 80 per cent efficiency, the Eels 71 per cent. (Even last week the Dragons managed 80 per cent against the Raiders.)

The history: Played 21; Eels 11, Dragons 9, drawn 1. The Dragons have won five of the past eight, including three of the past four. They won 18-12 in the season opener at Parramatta Stadium. At Kogarah they hold a 3-1 advantage – although the Eels won the last time they clashed there, in the finals last year.

Conclusion: The Dragons can’t afford to give ground in the premiership with another loss here, especially if they get a fair representation of their Origin troops back on deck.

In a sidenote, look for a huge game from former Dragon Justin Poore, back at Kogarah for the first time since leaving for the Eels at the end of last season. While his stats this year are hardly earth-shattering (just 93 metres a game, no line-breaks and just four broken tackles in 10 games), he’ll be looking to remind everyone he was an Origin-calibre player just 12 months ago.

If this game wasn’t close enough to start with, the weather will provide even more of a leveller. The Eels have the flair, but the Dragons can be counted on to not make mistakes. That’s what you want when it’s wet and dour.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW & Qld).