Dragons v Eels: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v Parramatta Eels
WIN Stadium
Sunday, 6.30pm

Two of the more impressive winners from Round 1 face off in Wollongong to close Round 2 as each looks to consolidate a bright start to the year after 2016 campaigns each are keen to leave behind.

The Red V were without doubt the surprise packets of Round 1. The second-worst attacking side of last season came out bursting with energy and full of running as they notched the biggest team score of the round. Their forwards bent the line back, they produced the most offloads and run metres of any side, the playmakers played what was in front of them, Gareth Widdop equalled the club point-scoring record with 22 and the dour lows of 2016 were consigned to history.

Was it a fluke? Can they keep it up? Were the Panthers just really bad? We'll have a much better idea of what the Dragons will offer this year once they meet a steely Eels side that looked very impressive last Sunday despite the side's key playmakers never having played a game together before.

Unsurprisingly Dragons coach Paul McGregor has named an unchanged 17 with Luciano Leilua appearing on the team sheet for the first time this year in the four-man reserve list.

Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has also stuck solid with his 17 as expected though with a revamped reserves list that this week features hooker Cam King plus backs George Jennings and Marata Niukore for the first time.

‌Why the Dragons can win: If they can reproduce the energy they showed last week they'll be mighty hard to stop. They boast one of the best back rows in the comp and lock Jack De Belin (155 metres, five offloads, seven tackle busts and a try), second rower Joel Thompson (three tries and eight tackle busts) and new prop Paul Vaughan (189 metres) were all particularly effective. Maligned fullback Josh Dugan has been working on his ball-playing too, throwing 13 passes including three offloads to notch two line-break assists. By way of comparison, noted passing fullback Darius Boyd also threw 13 passes last week. Is this a new Dugan? 

Why the Eels can win: Another of the teams that got great service out of its forwards in Round 1. The impact of new props Suaia Matagi and Nathan Brown was fantastic, while skipper Tim Mannah was at his vintage best. The real star of the show though was halfback Corey Norman. Playing his first game in eight months, Norman's kicking game – arguably the best in the NRL these days – was on fire. Five drop-outs forced and the most jaw-dropping 40/20 in recent memory were among 312 total kick metres to go with one try scored and a hand in another. He was disappointed he didn't play better so if he improves on that now that he's blown the cobwebs out, look out.

 


The history: Played 31; Dragons 14, Eels 15, Drawn 2. Parra have won four on the bounce against the Dragons but haven't won in Wollongong since 2001 – although they have only visited four times in the 16 years since then.

What are the odds: Parramatta have been backed off the map against the Dragons by Sportsbet punters. Three times as many bets have been placed on the Eels, and Parra 13+ is the overwhelming favourite in winning margin. Bevan French is the one punters want for first try scorer which is hardly surprising. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.

Match officials: Referee: Dave Munro; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch judges: Rohan Best and Phil Henderson; Review Official: Ben Galea; Senior RO: Ashley Klein.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 5.30pm. 

NRL.com predicts: There was a lot to like about both these teams in week one of the season and whether the Dragons can repeat their out-of-the-box attacking masterclass is one of the most interesting subplots of week two. We reckon they'll find the going a little tougher against an Eels defence that was good last week and pretty much all of last year. On that basis we'll tip Parra in a close one in what should be a fascinating game.