Dragons v Sea Eagles preview

St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles
WIN Jubilee Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (AEDT)

The Dragons return to their Kogarah base for a tough match-up against premiers Manly on Saturday, still smouldering after burning the Wests Tigers to a crisp last Friday night.

Meanwhile you can bet Geoff Toovey’s Sea Eagles won’t be looking forward to another coach trip past Botany Bay this week having been devoured by the hungry Sharks at Cronulla HQ last Monday – the defeat relinquished their grip at the top of the premiership ladder and featured a Tony Williams brain-snap tackle that will now see the star back-rower sit out the next seven weeks through suspension!

The Dragons were devastating against the Tigers, their attack peppering the opposition goal posts as they ran in four first-half tries in a sometimes spiteful encounter. The 36-12 victory was at odds with their inglorious 26-point defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs in Round 2 and emphasised that preparation and attitude on any given week are probably equally as important as overall team form in 2012.

The biggest plus to come out of the victory was the dynamic display from Brett Morris after the Test winger was switched to fullback following the late withdrawals of centres Beau Scott and Matt Cooper. Coach Steve Price had no hesitation in shifting Kyle Stanley closer to the action in the centres, partnering rookie Nathan Green, with Morris – who played fullback for the Price-coached Jersey Flegg premier Dragons in 2005 – handed the custodian’s role.

Morris handled the shift with aplomb, scoring a try and always threatening – and he gets the chance to further impress this week up against the likely NSW Origin fullback Brett Stewart.

The Sea Eagles won’t be too disappointed with their first loss of the season – the Sharks had been one of the better-performed sides statistically over the first fortnight of the competition, despite not banking any competition points.

However, the defeat came at huge player cost, with in-form Tony Williams suspended for seven matches after submitting an early guilty plea to his Grade 4 charge for a dangerous throw on Isaac De Gois.

Coach Toovey has regrouped by elevating Jamie Buhrer from the bench to take Williams’ second row spot, with three new faces on the extended interchange in Jason Annear, Nick Skinner and Jorge Taufua.

Meanwhile in Dragons personnel changes, centre Matt Cooper has been named to return after missing the past fortnight, with Nathan Green missing out. Dean Young will start at lock, with Jack De Belin joining an extended interchange of seven that also includes Jeremy Latimore, who is free to suit up after he took an early guilty plea for his high shot on Benji Marshall last week, plus Beau Scott. Cameron King has been included for the injured Nathan Fien.  

Watch Out Dragons: Jason Nightingale and Kyle Stanley need to be extra vigilant in defence this week – the Dragons have conceded seven tries down their right edge, the most by any side. In fact oppositions have crossed for a whopping five tries in the left corner – a situation that must be addressed this week or else the Sea Eagles will run away with the contest.

Last season Manly boasted the most devastating left-side attack, crossing for 49 tries. They’ve already bagged five and more will flow if they’re not halted. To add to the danger, winger Michael Oldfield scored twice last week for the Sea Eagles and made two line-breaks on the left edge.

The Dragons need to curb their emotions following the challenge by Manly co-captain Jason King on Kyle Stanley after the Dragon scored the last time they met. Although the incident was deemed accidental by the refs many Dragons, including Trent Merrin, were incensed and a push-and-shove threatened to boil over. They can’t afford to hold a grudge or they’ll lose focus.

Danger Sign: More Sea Eagles will run the ball more than usual this week to cover for Williams’ absence. ‘T-Rex’ has easily been their most damaging contributor to date (25 tackle-breaks, most in the comp); expect Daly Cherry-Evans (14 tackle busts), David Williams and Jamie Lyon (eight apiece) as well as Anthony Watmough (seven) to up their involvement.

Cherry-Evans holds the key for the visitors – he makes more territory than any other halfback (73 metres) and if the Dragons offer a staggered defensive line at any time, gaps will start to appear.      

Watch Out Sea Eagles: Mitch Rein is building a solid resume as a dummy-half runner and the Sea Eagles will need to keep an eye on him all night. Rein threw a big dummy at marker and dived over from close range to score the last time these sides met – and he also scored from marker against the Tigers last week, dashing from inside the 10 and dummying over.

The Sea Eagles need to show greater urgency chasing kicks – to date they’ve registered just 21 ‘good chases’. If they don’t get to their kicks in numbers the likes of Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale (six kick-returns a game, fourth most) will make easy inroads. Meanwhile they need urgency fielding Jamie Soward’s probing kicks – the Dragons have notched 71 ‘good chases’, the best in the league.

Danger Sign: The Dragons worked over the Tigers through the centre of the ruck last week. In particular, they targeted the opposition goal posts and had great success, scoring four times in the first half alone. Look for prop Trent Merrin to lead the way as a ball-playing battering ram. Merrin is averaging 143 metres a game, second behind David Shillington for all props with three games under their belts. He offered a wonderful try assist last week too and backed up his contribution with a line-break and 29 tackles. Manly could be susceptible up the guts – seven of their 10 tries conceded have originated inside 10 metres, with four scored near the goal posts.

Worryingly for the Sea Eagles, the Dragons have an excellent points-scoring record against the maroon-and-whites at home, racking up a whopping 50 tries in 10 games (for nine wins from 10 played).

Brett Morris v Brett Stewart: Two of the most exciting runners of the Steeden shape up with Dragon Morris looking to build on his dream start in the No.1. Morris ranks fifth for total running metres (489, averaging 163 a game) and added six offloads to great effect last week, something his supports will be looking for again on Saturday. Meanwhile Stewart – who has been linked to the Dragons in rumoured contract discussions – leads his team for line-break assists (two). The Sea Eagle will also be looking to add to his try tally and will follow Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran around all night looking to bust the Dragons open off an inside ball. At least one of these guys will score at the weekend – and either can provide the match-winner.

Where It Will Be Won: The battle up front. Whichever forward pack keeps errors to a minimum and maximises their completions will lay the foundation for victory. At the moment just two members of each pack are averaging triple figures in metres gained, so both need to lift markedly.

Meanwhile there’s a struck match between the teams when it comes to errors, with the Sea Eagles marginally better at 12.3 mistakes each game compared to the Dragons’ 13. Last week the Dragons improved to make just 11 errors against the Tigers, while Manly made 13 errors in the wet at Shark Park.  

The History: Played 18; Dragons 13, Sea Eagles 5. The Red V have built an imposing record over the past dozen years, including winning seven of the past 10 clashes. The Dragons have never lost to Manly at Kogarah in four clashes there and were dominant 28-nil victors the last time they met at the venue in Week One of the 2010 finals.

The Last Time They Met: Despite missing captain Ben Hornby and centre Matt Cooper to injury the Dragons ran out strong 24-6 in Wollongong in Round 16 last year. Kyle Stanley, playing in the centres for Cooper, bagged two tries. The Dragons led 12-nil at halftime despite having less possession than their opponents, with the Sea Eagles digging a hole for themselves with a whopping 18 missed tackles in the opening 40 minutes. A Brett Stewart try immediately after the resumption got the visitors back into the contest before tries to Stanley and Jamie Soward in the 67th and 70th minutes sealed the deal for the Red V. It was a high-quality contest, with both sides completing their sets at 83 per cent and the Dragons winning the battle for overall territory by just 10 metres on the night. However, the home side made four line-breaks to the Sea Eagles’ one. Darius Boyd starred for the Dragons with 188 metres and eight tackle busts, while Manly were best served by halfback Daly Cherry-Evans (113 metres, seven tackle-breaks) and lock Glenn Stewart (135 metres, six tackle-breaks).  

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Dave Munro; Video Referee – Russell Smith.

The Way We See It: The Sea Eagles looked impressive compiling their two wins before being outmuscled by the Sharks last Monday. Meanwhile the Dragons have an erratic form line that saw them lose by 26 points one week, then win by 24 points the next. The home ground advantage will most likely see them remain switched on this week but it’s a query on the Sea Eagles’ defence that has us leaning towards St George Illawarra. On their march to the premiership last year the Sea Eagles missed the second-fewest tackles (30 a game). Worryingly, through three rounds in 2012 they have missed the third-most tackles per match (36.3) and consequently conceded the fifth-most tries (3.3). So it’s the Dragons by eight points this week, we say.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7.30pm.

 

  • Statistics: NRL Stats