St George Illawarra Dragons v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Des Hasler is still counting the cost of the Bulldogs' controversial Good Friday clash with the Rabbitohs.
Brett Morris (hamstring), James Graham, Sam Kasiano, David Klemmer (all suspended) and Tim Lafai (knee) will all be missing this game and beyond.
All up the Bulldogs will be missing 418 NRL games, 54 Tests and 10 Origins worth of experience when they take on the in-form Dragons on Sunday afternoon.
Hasler has recalled Tim Browne to replace Graham in the front row, with Antonio Kaufusi and Lloyd Perrett named on the bench for Klemmer and Kasiano. Corey Thompson will make his second start of the year on the wing, with Sam Perrett shifting to fullback for Morris. Moses Mbye will also shift to the centres for Lafai with Josh Reynolds moving to the halves and Chase Stanley earning a promotion to the bench. Phew!
It's all positive for St George Illawarra fans though. They remain unchanged this week although captain Ben Creagh remains a chance of being included in what is also Gareth Widdop's 100th NRL game.
Watch out Dragons: Complacency will be something the Red V will need to avoid. After struggling in the first fortnight of the season the Dragons have played their way into the top half of the NRL ladder with three straight wins – against former hoodoo rivals the Raiders in Canberra, then perennial top-eight team the Sea Eagles, then the previously unbeaten Knights in Newcastle. The Dragons now boast easily the best defensive record in the competition. They must be confident going up against a weakened Bulldogs outfit this week, but will still need to be switched on considering the experience remaining in the Dogs' team.
Watch out Bulldogs: The Dragons' great defensive wall grew a few bricks taller upon news of Hasler's men losing their three biggest forwards. The Red V have conceded just one try in their last 220 minutes of game time meaning the likes of Aiden Tolman, Tim Browne and Frank Pritchard need to take their game to new heights in the absence of Graham, Klemmer and Kasiano, while NSW halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson will need to produce more creative spark without the support of star fullback Morris.
Key Match-Up: Tyson Frizell vs. Josh Jackson. This is Josh Jackson's time to shine. With the Bulldogs now missing four Test players to suspension or injury, Jackson has to prove why he was called up to the Australian team at last year's Four Nations. Not only are Jackson's numbers down this season but his impact has also noticeably decreased. He can learn lessons from a fellow right-edge back-rower in the Red V's Tyson Frizell. While the two won't mark up against one another, Frizell has been outstanding for the Dragons. Frizell's average of 39.2 tackles and 103.9 metres per game in 2015 demonstrates Jackson needs to bring his A-game on Sunday.
The History: Played 27; Dragons 10, Bulldogs 17. The Bulldogs have won their past five meetings with the Dragons, including a huge 38-6 win in Round 9 last year. However before this streak kicked off, the Red V had a six-game winning run of their own over this week's opponents, between 2008 and 2011.
What are the Odds: With the Bulldogs' line-up decimated, 80 per cent of all money is going on a Dragons win. There have been four times as many individual bets on the Dragons by Sportsbet customers. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Ben Cummins; Assistant Referee – Matt Noyen; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise and Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees – Ashley Klein and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live (3:30pm)
The Way We See It: Hasler's men may be down but they aren't out, however if the Dragons don't win this one then they will have blown a prime opportunity to beat the Bulldogs. Considering the importance of the men the Dogs have lost the Dragons should extend their winning streak to four. It won't come easy though. Dragons by six points.