St George Illawarra Dragons v Newcastle Knights preview
The Knights can't wait for the week to be over. With their coach Rick Stone sacked and a 52-6 loss to the Rabbitohs their biggest mountain to climb so far this season, Sunday's clash with the Dragons could bring either much needed relief or another cruel blow.
Not that the Dragons care. They have their own worries. Two points out of the top eight after being entrenched in the top four for most of the year, St George Illawarra are simply looking to win. Their season needs reviving after losing their past seven games.
In a week where each team will wear jerseys representing Marvel superheroes – both clubs are currently looking like mere shadows of their alter-egos.
The Iron Man Dragons will welcome back Craig Garvey into the fold on the bench in place of Heath L'Estrange.
The Spiderman Knights will have Carlos Tuimavave return to their halves with James McManus out with concussion, as Sione Mata'utia (centre), Jake Mamo (wing) and captain Kurt Gidley (fullback) find new positions. Danny Levi has been replaced on the bench by Tyler Randell for Beau Scott's 50th game at the club.
Watch out Dragons: He may not have played a game since the 2013 Preliminary Finals but interim head coach Danny Buderus holds the key to victory this weekend. While their structure won't change, you best believe Buderus's passion for the club will shine within the players he's set to embark on a six-week journey with.
Watch out Knights: The onus isn't on any one player for this game. When push comes to shove, each member of the Dragons' 17 should be desperate to win. One of very few teams left outside of the top eight who are still a chance of playing past the first week of September, the Dragons need to put their last seven games aside and re-establish the defensive steel they have become known for.
Key Match-Up: Lesson Ah Mau v Kade Snowden – One Knight who can keep his head up high is Kade Snowden. One of only three Knights not to miss a tackle last weekend in their 46-point loss to Souths (53 tackles), Snowden's averaged 130.9 metres and 35.6 tackles will be essential against the ever-consistent Lesson Ah Mau. The toiler of the Red V's pack, Ah Mau has quietly being going about his business all season long and besides Gareth Widdop is the only other Dragon to play every game this season. His 99 metres and 26 tackles per game aren't bad either.
The History: Played 30; Dragons 20, Knights 10. Since 2010 the Dragons have broken away in their head to head history against the Knights. The Red V has won seven of their past nine games against the Novocastrians, including a 13-0 win in terrible Newcastle conditions back in Round 5.
What are the Odds: There is twice the number of bets on the Dragons to win the match, however Sportsbet punters are keen on the Knights with the start in line betting. Josh Dugan has been the most popular in the first try scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline Officials: Jason Walsh and David Ryan. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 2pm
The Way We See It: The Dragons need to start winning quick smart if they are to feature past the first week of September. Confidence in earning a finals berth should've been boosted by the unfortunate ankle injury to Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson. Considering they play the eighth placed Warriors in Round 22, they should be looking to get a roll on. However, history dictates teams generally respond well the week after getting flogged and getting a new coach the week after such events occur – the Knights have both factors up their sleeve. But it probably won't be enough. Dragons by four points.