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Dragons v Roosters
WIN Stadium
Sunday 3pm

The Dragons won’t get a better chance to right their listing ship than this week’s meeting with the Roosters who are three key players down. Fed up with repeated misdemeanours the Roosters’ board axed perennial bad boy Todd Carney, plus Nate Myles and Frank-Paul Nuuausala, after it emerged the trio spent a night on the booze following their embarrassing 36-8 loss to the Sea Eagles last Sunday.

Worse, the Roosters trot onto WIN Stadium knowing the law of averages suggest at least Carney may be cut from the club for good next week, which can’t be beneficial for the mindset of a side looking for inspiration to avoid their second wooden spoon in three years. 

Meanwhile the Dragons will be desperate. They’re on a three-game losing streak and have fallen in six of their past eight games, plus a draw. In that time they’ve plummeted from competition pacesetters to fifth on the ladder, one competition point away from the fourth-placed Cowboys and with the surging Warriors just three competition points adrift. They need to win a minimum three of their final four games to have a chance at a home semi-final and, with tough games to follow against the Storm and Warriors, a win against the Roosters is a must.

Last week’s 16-14 loss to the Wests Tigers was the third straight week an opponent has snatched victory from them in the final five minutes. Talk about fragile psyches. However, stats show the Dragons have dominated key categories such as better completions, line-breaks, fewer missed tackles and fewer errors so it’s not like they’re in a form slump. The opposition just seems to want the win more.

Offsetting that though they have been dominated in territory recently; given they were conceding the fourth-most metres each week even when they were winning matches, that’s a huge blip on their premiership radar.

There’s been no panic from the coach – their line-up remains unchanged, despite well documented ailments that caught up with them on the field against the Tigers, namely Jamie Soward’s debilitating back spasms and Beau Scott’s restrictive hamstring.

Meanwhile Roosters coach Brian Smith has yet to name his team reshuffle, although it’s likely captain Braith Anasta will cover for Carney in the No.6, as he’s done on more than one occasion during the season (due to injury and axing). Tom Symonds is a candidate for the vacant second row position, while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves may drop back to lock with Mose Masoe starting at prop. Alternatively Tinirau Arona (NSW Cup) may play lock.

Some comfort for the Dragons is the knowledge Jamie Soward is undefeated in seven games against his former club and Darius Boyd is undefeated in his 10 NRL appearances against the Tricolours. Also, the Dragons haven’t lost four games in a row since April 2008.

Watch Out Dragons: Realistically, given the results of the past month, and this week’s disjointed opponent, only the players can beat themselves. The Dragons need to work on their weaknesses and come away with a result that will exorcise their demons. They can’t afford to leak a long-range try this week, they need to show greater urgency contesting the ball in the air and they must not, repeat not allow in a barge-over try from inside the 10 metres (34 of 49 tries against them have originated here). If they do, the whisper of self-doubt could become an audible voice.

Danger Sign: There will be more than a few nerves if the Dragons are trailing as the halftime siren sounds. In five of their past six losses they’ve been in front on the scoreboard heading to oranges but have been overhauled. Worse, they haven’t been able to overturn a halftime deficit all season, with two losses and a draw in the three games when they’ve trailed after 40 minutes. Awkward. 

Watch Out Roosters: Making headway against oppositions is proving a tough slog for the Roosters. They rank last for metres gained each match, averaging just 1256. Last week they registered a puny 960 metres against the Sea Eagles – the fourth fewest made by any side. Worse, 90 of those came in the last minute when Phil Graham finished off a wonderful team try!

They need breakout games from the likes of Sam Perrett (averaging 121 metres), Anthony Minichiello (112 metres), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (107 metres) as well as some attacking magic from Mitchell Pearce (16 try assists), Braith Anasta (five) and Jake Friend (four). Otherwise the Dragons will steamroll them – they rank No.1 for territory, averaging 1436 metres a game.

You can bet the Dragons will target Kenny-Dowall’s area of the field; the Dragons are the masters of the left-side sweep and the Roosters have let in a league-high 20 tries one man in from the left sideline.

Danger Sign: The Dragons will aim to get inside the Roosters’ 20-metre zone with plenty of tackles up their sleeves. From there the Red V will be shifting left or right… they won’t be fussed, given the Tricolours have leaked 24 tries from inside 20 metres, easily the most by any team.

Plays To Watch: Darius Boyd orchestrating sideline sweeps; Ben Creagh charging down the left fringe from close range; Jamie Soward chipping and chasing; Soward and Mark Gasnier combining to attempt a repeat of their kick/catch grand final try; Dean Young having a dig from dummy-half; Anthony Minichiello chiming in left and right; Mitchell Pearce’s bullet-like cut-out faceballs to the right edge; Jason Ryles having one final hurrah (maybe?) against his former team-mates; Aiden Guerra hitting the right edge hard.  

Where It Will Be Won: Application when it counts. The Dragons lost to the Raiders when they couldn’t defuse a short kick-off; against Souths they failed to catch a crucial restart and gifted the opposition possession at close range from which they scored; and against the Wests Tigers they failed to compensate in their defensive line opposing one of the best long-range raiders in the business. In isolation these incidents can be dismissed – but collectively they reveal a weakness. The Dragons need to prove to themselves they can retain focus for the full 80 minutes or they’ll enter the semi-finals full of self-doubt and will provide fodder for any one of the top four sides.

Application matters for Roosters this week too. With their roster upheaval they need everyone on the same page or they could get swamped.

The centres will be an area for the Dragons to target. Kenny-Dowall has made the sixth most errors by any player all year (29) while his Roosters counterpart on the other side of the field BJ Leilua has made 28.

The History: Played 25; Dragons 16, Roosters 8, drawn 1. The Dragons have won 11 of the past 13 clashes between the sides, including the past six. The last time the Roosters saluted was back in 2008 (10-nil at the SFS). The Dragons won 24-10 back in Round 7. They hold a 3-0 advantage in Wollongong, with one game drawn. The Roosters haven’t won at WIN Stadium since defeating Illawarra in 1998. 

Conclusion: The premiers have to win this game, not just to stay in touch with the top four but also because yet another loss to a lowly side, and at home, would be soul destroying to their campaign.

More, they can’t afford to simply ‘escape’ with this game. They need to make a thrashing their objective.

The Roosters will try a lot harder than last week. But they don’t have the troops to make this a contest. Dragons by 18.

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Russell Smith.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.

* Stats: NRL Stats