Schick Hydro Preview: Wests Tigers v St George Illawarra Dragons
With just four rounds of footy under our belts it's probably fair to say the Wests Tigers and Dragons are travelling worse and better respectively than most anticipated.
While the Tigers weren't heavily-fancied pre-season favourites, three straight losses (two of those pretty dire) and one sacked coach within four rounds is definitely still below par.
The Dragons meanwhile were widely tipped to be the team that could keep the Knights away from a third straight wooden spoon but Paul McGregor's men have set about making a mockery of those predictions with three powerful wins from four starts, including a couple of big scalps in Penrith and Cronulla.
The Tigers did look an improved team in interim coach Andrew Webster's first game at the helm, running out to a 14-0 lead against the table-topping Storm at Leichhardt last week before getting run down in the second half.
They've lost halfback Luke Brooks to a hamstring strain and while losing your No.7 is never ideal, it may not be the crushing blow it could have been. Brooks has been out of sorts so far this season while his replacement Jack Littlejohn is a specialist half. The Tigers won two out of three games he started at No.7 last year.
Matt Ballin (foot) was a late withdrawal last week after coming back from a knee injury the week before in the Intrust Super Premiership but has been named to make his long-awaited NRL return on the bench this week in place of Jacob Liddle. Jamal Idris (foot) also returns to the top grade side at centre pushing Michael Chee-Kam to the bench.
It's steady as she goes at the Dragons with no changes to their 17. Jai Field, Hame Sele, Luciano Leilua and Taana Milne are in the reserves list.
Why Wests Tigers can win: The old 'new coach bounce back' theory is actually a bit of a myth with teams winning roughly one out of three games the week after sacking a head coach but things get a little brighter thereafter with almost 60 per cent of teams winning the second week after showing a head coach the door. The Tigers will be hoping Webster's second week in charge – and a more spirited showing last week following the dire Canberra loss – may spark something in the side. And for all the talk about whether their 'Big Four' will re-sign it's winger David Nofoaluma who has been the standout so far. He produced an absurd 14 tackle busts and popped three offloads against the Storm.
Why Dragons can win: The Dragons are playing a serious power game at the moment. Their relentless forward running (and some powerful backline running from Josh Dugan in particular) has helped the Red V play every match on the front foot bar a possession-starved Round 2 loss to the Eels. They have the most tackle busts (139) and points scored (100) of any team and they are second best for post-contact running metres (i.e. ground gained after meeting the defensive line) behind only the Cowboys.
 Telstra Premiership: Aaron Woods vs Paul Vaughan
Minutes Played, Hit Ups, All Run Metres, Tackle Breaks.
The history: Wests Tigers v Dragons: Played 32; Tigers 15; Dragons 17. The last 10 meetings are split five apiece although the Dragons are on a five-match losing run at ANZ while the Tigers have won five of their past six there.
What are the odds: An incredible 90 per cent of money placed on this game is on the Dragons, so their price is certain to shorten as we get closer to kick-off. According to Sportsbet, 60 per cent of the bets on winning margin are for St George Illawarra to win by 13+. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara; Assistant Referee: Matt Noyen; Touch judges: Rohan Best and Phil Henderson; Review Official: Ben Galea; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 4pm. Fox Sports – Live from 4pm.
NRL.com predicts: We're not writing off the Tigers – if their attack clicks as it did in Round 1 and the first half last week they can challenge any team – but the Dragons' current potency through the middle third has us backing the Red V to get it done by 10 points.