Holden Cup Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v Sydney Roosters
History will be made on Friday night with one of these teams set to progress to the Holden Cup grand final for the first time in their history.
The Dragons have reached this stage of the season four times (in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014) but have never advanced to the decider, while this will be the Roosters' first preliminary final since 2012.
St George-Illawarra earned a crucial week off thanks to a miraculous golden point win over the Cowboys a fortnight ago that saw them score a try in the 80th minute and then steal the win with a try in the corner in extra-time.
The Roosters have been the dominant force of the playoffs so far, chalking up back-to-back wins in Canberra with a 48-0 over the Raiders and a 28-18 triumph over the Sharks.
Izaac Thompson has been named on the wing with Keelyn Tuuta-Edwards at centre, but expect a late switch like we saw in week one of the finals. Matt Jurd will start at prop with Jacob Esau dropping back to the bench.
The Roosters have named the same 17 that took care of the Sharks.
Watch out Dragons: If you had to nominate one centre to be wary of, Joseph Manu would be the easy answer. But his partner in crime on the left edge has been just as good, if not better over the second half of the season. Jarred Anderson started the year quietly, scoring just two tries from his first 11 matches, but has exploded since then to become one of the most prolific finishers in the Holden Cup. Since Round 17, Anderson has scored in all but one of his nine matches, including back-to-back doubles to start the finals series.
Watch out Roosters: No team controls field position better than the Dragons, so the Tricolours will need to be disciplined with and without the ball. The Red V lead the Holden Cup with 40,549 running metres; nearly 1,500 more than the next best side (the Cowboys). They have also gained the most territory from kicks, with the Dragons amassing 10,288 metres off the boot in 2016. They are also ranked equal first with the Wests Tigers when it comes to possession, with both sides controlling the ball 52 per cent of the time.
Key match-up: Luciano Leilua v Reuben Porter. Batten down the hatches when these two behemoths collide on Friday night. Leilua's incredible form in the NYC saw him named in the Holden Cup Team of the year recently, and it's pretty clear why. The 20-year-old back-rower ran for over 100 metres in all of his 20 matches this season, scored eight tries and incredibly produced 16 try assists; the most of any forward (not including hookers) in the competition. There aren't many players who can match him in size, but at 189cm and 104kg, Porter goes close. The edge-forward has been one of the most consistent performers for the Tricolours in 2016, running for 2,551 metres, making 729 tackles and scoring five tries from 25 appearances. He has the strength to bend back defensive lines and his ability to earn a quick play the ball has greatly benefited No.9 Grant Garvey.
The history: Played 17; Dragons 8, Roosters 8, Drawn 1. There is nothing between these sides with the ledger locked at eight wins apiece. The Dragons earned bragging rights with a pair of victories in the regular season, including a thrilling 25-24 win a month ago courtesy of a long-range Patrick Herbert field goal at the death. This will be the first time the sides have clashed in the post-season.
Match officials: Referee: Phil Henderson. Assistant referee: Kasey Badger. Sideline officials: Rohan Best and Todd Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 4:45pm.
The way we see it: Given how well the Roosters have played over the past fortnight, it can be easy to forget just how impressive the Dragons were before their week off. They've been just about the form team in the NYC throughout the second half of the season, and given their impressive head-to-head record this year, they should be too strong for the Tricolours. Dragons by 8.