Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v Sydney Roosters
The traditional Anzac Day clash between the Red V and Tricolours sees the Dragons take a home game to the Roosters' traditional stomping ground at Moore Park for a match either can ill-afford to lose.
After a fortnight of back-to-back losses to nil the now-13th placed Dragons hit back on the Gold Coast last week and are equal with the eighth-placed Bunnies on three wins but desperately need another win to stay in touch with the pack.
The Roosters copped a tough loss at home to Penrith on Monday night in what is another match they'll feel they should have won but couldn't quite land a killer blow.
They did well to fight back after being shocked by an early onslaught but in the final wash-up another loss sees Trent Robinson's men mired to the foot of the ladder on just one win and needing a significant reversal in results to have any chance of mounting a finals challenge.
Much has been made of the calibre of troops they have unavailable and while injured stars Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are each inching closer to a return neither has been named for this one – but check final team lists on Monday in case one or both are included late.
At this stage Robinson has named an unchanged line-up with Connor Watson to play his second NRL game and Abraham Papalii added as 18th man.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor has also stuck solid with the side that got the job done against the Titans but has fitness concerns with centre Euan Aitken, who went off early in that game with a hamstring strain.
Watch out Dragons: Repeat after me: hold the ball. The Red V are the NRL's number one offenders when it comes to dropping the pill. It makes it tough to score points – as we've seen of late – and puts pressure on your defence. They average a league-high 10.9 fumbles per match and ran up another nine against the Titans on Saturday in what was only a marginal improvement. With the Roosters threatening to regain their mojo every match and young fullback Latrell Mitchell hitting his straps in a big way last round, loose balls from the Dragons in attack will see the Tricolours cash in.
Watch out Roosters: The danger men are Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan. Dugan is the best kick returner in the NRL and blasted his way to another 200+ metres and seven tackle busts against the Titans to help his side start sets on the front foot while Widdop – somewhat maligned over the previous fortnight – returned to form in grand fashion with a try and try assist to steer his side to a much-needed win. If the Roosters can go some way to shutting down these two the threat diminishes dramatically.
Key match-up: Josh Dugan v Latrell Mitchell. Dugan's feats are well-known – the Blues' player of the series in Origin last year and his side's best performer over seven rounds this year, he is averaging a whopping 179 metres from a busy 19 carries per game with 34 tackle busts. But young Latrell is no slouch; he is actually breaking more tackles than his more experienced opposite number with 38 in seven games while his 116 metres from 13 carries per game is a strong contribution as well. He's also scored more tries than Dugan so far this year with three against just one for the Dragons custodian.
The history: Played 34; Dragons 18, Roosters 15, Drawn 1. It's been pretty level pegging between these two clubs since St George merged with Illawarra close to 20 years ago. Not so much lately though with the Dragons successful in just one of their past seven meetings against the boys from Bondi – and one from their past six against the Roosters at this venue.
What are the odds: The money is running four to one in favour of the Dragons and they could even challenge the Roosters for favouritism if the stream of bets with Sportsbet continues. Josh Dugan is the best backed in the first try-scorer market and the Dragons are popular in handicap betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant referee: Adam Devcich. Sideline officials: Nick Beashel and Jason Walsh. Review Officials: Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 2.30pm.
The way we see it: Expect a tough gritty battle as two sides that have been lacking a little execution this year strive to find a way to get the job done. It's unlikely to be the highest scoring match of the round so each try will be pivotal and it could come down to one or two key moments. The form line isn't great for either team at the moment but we'll lean to the Tricolours to eke out a close one: Roosters by 4.