Schick Hydro preview: Newcastle Knights v St George Illawarra Dragons
People may well argue that Newcastle's poor form in 2016 has been due to their inexperienced side playing well above their weight. While that statement holds truth, what isn't spoken about as much is the Knights' horrible injury toll.
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown can seek solace in this weekend's clash knowing that the first of many of his injured players will be making their returns against the Dragons.
While Jake Mamo (ankle) joins the casualty ward and former co-captain Tariq Sims has departed – coincidentally to the Dragons – they'll welcome back Peter Mata'utia (knee), Nathan Ross (calf) and Robbie Rochow (arm).
For once, Newcastle have some depth with Chanel Mata'utia (knee), Pauli Pauli and Josh King looking to force their way into the Knights' 17 prior to Saturday afternoon.
St George Illawarra haven't named Tyson Frizell (Origin) or Josh Dugan (elbow) but don't be surprised by their late inclusions.
Sims won't play his old team either with a clause in his Dragons contract stating he cannot face his former Knights side. Dunamis Lui will join the bench in his place.
Watch out Knights: The NRL can certainly prove a slippery slope for some clubs but nobody has suffered more than the Knights this year. Newcastle have only won the one game this year and that was almost three months ago. If they're not careful, their young troops will soon accustom themselves to losing being the norm.
Watch out Dragons: In an indication of the Dragons' poor pointscoring rate, prior to their 20-10 win over the Storm last weekend they had crossed for the least points in the competition. Even the cellar-dwelling Knights had scored more. The Dragons have only scored on average 12.9 points per game in 2016 – a feat the Knights have managed to surpass seven times including their past three games.
Key Match-Up: Danny Levi v Mitch Rein. Rein was the Dragons' best against Melbourne in Round 15 but Danny Levi will be up for the task on Saturday. The heir-apparent to New Zealand's No. 9 jumper has shared his time at dummy half with Tyler Randell this season but certainly won't shirk the task at hand.
The History: Played 31; Knights 10, Dragons 21. The Knights have only been able to beat the Red V a mere five times (in 20 games) since 2004. The Dragons have won their past two against Newcastle – both last year – and won them both by 13-plus margins.
What are the Odds: Support for the Knights has been hard to find with Sportsbet. 90 per cent of bets on the game have been on St George Illawarra in the head to head market. There's more investment on the Dragons to win 13-plus than all of the other margin options combined. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Dave Munro. Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis and Kasey Badger.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 2:25pm.
The way we see it: A combination of poor form and a poor history has the Dragons primed for their eighth win of the season. Their pointscoring woes is a massive concern and it won't come easy against a desperate Knights outfit but the expectant returns of Frizell and Dugan will prove a huge and timely boost. Dragons by six points.