Dragons v Raiders preview
St George Illawarra Dragons v Canberra Raiders
At the start of the 2015 season this fixture may have been easily overlooked.
The Dragons apparently had a soft pack, had lost their best player in Brett Morris and were resting their hopes in a fading star in the form of Benji Marshall.
Meanwhile the Raiders looked like they had "bottom two" written all over them with the quality of their roster, relying on unwanted players from other clubs finally finding their feet.
How things have changed come Round 10 of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
Until Monday night the Dragons had won six straight, starting with a huge come-from-behind win over the Raiders in Round 3. They sit third on the ladder largely thanks to the impenetrable Red V defensive wall.
The Raiders are in fifth and are on a three-game winning streak, most recently trouncing over the Titans in an emphatic 40-point win. Their 'solid' off-season purchases all blossoming in the nation's capital to make the Raiders once again the bad-and-mean Green Machine.
This one's gonna be a cracker on Sunday arvo.
The Dragons will line up unchanged from the side that fell to the Rabbitohs last round, and Josh Dugan will again play fullback against his former team after starring at 80 per cent fitness on Monday.
The key change for the Raiders comes at halfback where Mitch Cornish replaces Sam Williams, who played much of the Titans game with a collapsed lung.
Former Test prop David Shillington has been named at 18th man after recovering from a broken thumb.
Watch Out Dragons: Blake Austin is on fire! The form player of the competition tore apart the Titans through the middle last week with two explosive runs leaving Gold Coast defenders clutching at thin air. That performance put him firmly on the Origin radar just one week after scoring a hat-trick in the City-Country fixture. Titans coach Neil Henry said the defensive focus the week before had been on shutting the ball-running five-eighth down. That didn't work. This week Paul McGregor will surely be focusing on the same thing. How exactly he will do that? Who knows…
Watch Out Raiders: Josh Dugan came into Monday night's game still feeling the effects of a violent Greg Eastwood hit in the Anzac Test. Playing well below his best, Dugan still managed to rip the Souths' defence apart. A big body, the former Raiders bad boy is hard to bring down and once he finds open space has speed to burn. The Raiders will be well advised to kick to the corners and limit his ability to find space when returning the ball.
Key Match-Up: Tyson Frizell v Josh Papalii. Two 23-year-old powerhouse second-rowers looking to wrap up Origin spots provide the most important match-up of Sunday afternoon. Frizell has burst onto the scene this year, showcasing his amazing strength and power running the ball. Meanwhile Papalii has been one of the most damaging forwards in the NRL for a few years now but amazingly only turned 23 this week. The Raiders will be putting him one-on-one with the smallest opposition defenders, hoping he'll bust the line and set up his support.
The History: Played 25; Dragons 8, Raiders 16, 1 draw. St George Illawarra won the last encounter between these sides 22-20 at GIO Stadium in Round 3. The Raiders were up 18-0 and looked certainties to romp home before the Dragons came back, completing 19 of 20 sets to steal an unlikely victory.
What Are The Odds: Dragons $1.53; Raiders $2.50. The money is running four to one in favour of the Raiders with Sportsbet and their price has steadily come in from their opening quote of $2.77. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant Referee: Chris Butler. Touch Judges: Jeff Younis, David Ryan. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 2:00pm.
The Way We See It: The hoodoo is over but the Dragons should still be wary. The Raiders have found consistency in the make-up of their team in recent weeks and come into Sunday afternoon's game riding a wave of confidence, led by the sparkling Austin at five-eighth. The Dragons are possibly the most well-drilled team in the NRL, as showed by their six-game winning streak on the back of passionate defence. However here comes a key stat: so far this year the Dragons have scored the fewest tries in the competition (20) while the Raiders have the most (36). Unless there's another big storm Canberra should have more points in them on Sunday. Raiders by 8.