Canterbury Bulldogs v St George Illawarra Dragons: Schick Hydro preview
There's no other way to put it: both Canterbury and St George Illawarra were pretty well embarrassed in Round 20 of the Telstra Premiership.
The Bulldogs headed north to Townsville and were hammered 36-0 by reigning premiers, the North Queensland Cowboys.
A lack of possession in the first half had dire implications for the Bulldogs, but coach Des Hasler has made no changes to his 17 – with Lloyd Perrett and Tyrone Phillips added to an extended bench as cover.
The Dragons' finals hopes remain on a knife edge and their season could be over if they lose to the Bulldogs on Friday night.
A loss to the Wests Tigers last Sunday saw them sink to 11th on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder, and with Leeson Ah Mau suspended they'll have to rely on Jacob Host and Will Matthews to fill the Samoan international's void.
Watch out Bulldogs: Dragons coach Paul McGregor drafted in two relatively new faces to his side last week and they were probably the Red V's best. Adam Quinlan set up one try and scored the Dragons' other. Taane Milne – in just his second NRL game – set up Quinlan for his four-pointer and ran a team-high 162 metres.
Watch out Dragons: There will be a bounce back factor the Dragons will have to contend with when they come up against the Bulldogs. Their loss to the Cowboys saw them drop out of the top four meaning they'll be hell bent on ensuring they get a stranglehold on a top four finish and a double finals chance.
Key Match-Up: James Graham v Mike Cooper – the two England front-rowers will throw friendship out the window when they face off. Graham averages the most metres per game in the competition (175.7 metres) and will face stern competition in Cooper who has still managed to average 113.7 metres a game despite his ongoing back issues. Ah Mau's suspension has opened the door for Cooper to return to the front row and it's an opportunity he won't be taking lightly.
The History: Played 31; Bulldogs 20, Dragons 11. The Bulldogs have won eight of their past nine games against St George Illawarra dating back to 2012. The Dragons' only win in this period came last year – one week after the Bulldogs' horror Good Friday showing where multiple players were suspended or injured. Otherwise the Bulldogs were 34-16 victors when the two clubs last met in Round 14.
What are the Odds: Sportsbet has barely taken a bet on the Dragons in the head-to-head market and there's more wagered on a Bulldogs 13-plus victory than on every other margin combined. The Bulldogs are one to be included in your multis according to the punters. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Sideline Officials: Tim Roby and Rickey MacFarlane.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live Coverage from 7.30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 7.00pm.
The way we see it: On the brink of the top four the Bulldogs will be out to avenge their horrible showing in North Queensland. With blokes like Graham, David Klemmer and Sam Kasiano firing, the Bulldogs will leave the Red V's season in the hands of the four other teams log jammed around the brink of the top eight. Bulldogs by six points.