Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers
Surprise packets St George Illawarra host the struggling Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon in a game where both sides have named several stars to back up from Wednesday night's Origin series opener.
Only last year's two grand final teams sit above Paul McGregor's Dragons on the Telstra Premiership NRL ladder at the mid-point of the season. It is a testament to the job he's done with the team and the impact of handy new recruits Paul Vaughan and Cam McInnes. Since losing gun half Gareth Widdop in Round 8 to a knee strain the Dragons have won one game and lost two – against the aforementioned 2016 grand finalists in the Storm and Sharks.
A win here against the 15th-placed Tigers would consolidate their top-four billing and be a huge morale boost ahead of the imminent return of Widdop.
They have Tyson Frizell and Josh Dugan named to return from Origin I; both at this stage are in the reserves list but could readily join the starting 13 if passed fit after Wednesday night. Widdop himself is also in the reserves and could play as soon as this week if his knee is up to it.
The Tigers have lost Josh Aloiai (knee) and Sauaso Sue (suspension) but get Ava Seumanufagai and Chris Lawrence back. New recruit Tui Lolohea jumps straight into five-eighth to combine with Jack Littlejohn while halfback Luke Brooks (hamstring) is still unavailable. James Tedesco and Aaron Woods are both named to back up from Origin.
Why Dragons can win: The power-packed Dragons have the second-best attack and third-best defence of any club through 12 rounds. In-form middle-men Paul Vaughan and Jack De Belin are combining for almost 300 metres and a whopping 5.7 tackle busts per game between the two of them to lay a terrific platform for the playmakers. The sublime form of rejuvenated centre Tim Lafai (137 metres and three offloads per game) has been a massive boost.
Why Wests Tigers can win: The season is quickly slipping away for Ivan Cleary's men and they simply need to find a way. While Origin stars Tedesco and Woods will depart at season's end they are top-tier competitors and need to lead the way. Fans will be hoping the pair can bring back some inspiration from Blues camp. Both are travelling OK given the team's woes – Tedesco averages a team-high 177 metres per game with an absurd 7.7 tackle busts per match (only Raider Jordan Rapana is busting more in the NRL). Woods is gaining 155 metres from 55 minutes per week.
 Telstra Premiership: Paul Vaughan vs Aaron Woods
All Run Metres, Tackles, Tackle Breaks, Offloads.
The history: Dragons v Wests Tigers: Played 33; Dragons 18; Wests Tigers 15. Things are pretty even of late with the Tigers winning four of the past nine match-ups – however they have only beaten the Dragons in one of the past five times the two clubs have met at ANZ.
What are the odds: Dragons 13-plus seems to be the most popular bet in this game but there's been a bit of a nibble at Wests Tigers in the head-to-head market. In fact, 30 per cent more money has been placed on the Tigers at the big price. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee: Peter Gough; Touch judges: Russell Turner and Chris McMillan; Review Official: Luke Patten; Senior RO: Jared Maxwell.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 3pm.
NRL.com predicts: The Tigers are capable of troubling the Red V if they start well and the passes stick but on paper this looks like a comfortable win for the home side so we'll tip it as such. Dragons by 12.