Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v Newcastle Knights
UOW Jubilee Oval
This game could be exactly what the Dragons need to reignite their sputtering season… or it could be a massive banana skin that hands the improving Knights their third win of the season.
The Dragons have been off the boil lately, slipping from top-two to sixth on the Telstra Premiership ladder with just the wins over last-placed Wests Tigers and the 11th-placed Warriors (plus a bye) to show for their past eight weeks of footy.
Coach Paul McGregor has named Josh Dugan to back up from Wednesday night pushing Jason Nightingale to the wing and Kalifa Faifai Loa out of the side.
Jack De Belin was named on Tuesday but failed to get off his grade one dangerous contact charge at the judiciary on Tuesday night and will miss the match, which could see Tyson Frizell – who was originally named in the reserves list – take his place in the 17. Failing that, Will Matthews got through his first game since a dislocated hip in the pre-season and could come onto the bench.
For Newcastle, their Round 15 bye coupled with the Tigers' loss to Cronulla has bumped them at least temporarily off the foot of the ladder. Whether that puts a spring in their step remains to be seen but their form hasn't been bad of late.
Since beating the Raiders in Round 10 they've had strong games against Penrith and Manly, leading at half-time in both, and just one heavy loss to the ladder-leading Storm in between.
Following the week off, coach Nathan Brown has named an identical team to the one that faced Manly in Round 14, with Maroon Dane Gagai named to back up from Wednesday night.
Why Dragons can win: While things have tapered off since they were the best attacking team in the comp earlier in the year, the Red V forwards still pack a heap of punch. Getting Tyson Frizell (hopefully) back from Blues camp to join the likes of Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Russell Packer should help the Dragons start the match better than they did last week against the Eels. Vaughan in particular continues to go from strength to strength; last week he churned through 41 tackles and 120 metres with four tackle busts, two line breaks and a try – all in a soundly beaten team.
Why Knights can win: The Novocastrians are developing a habit of starting games strongly; they just need to develop the ability to go on with the job. Importantly their young halves are showing signs of improvement. Halfback Jaelen Feeney made some poor mistakes early with his side under massive pressure against Manly a fortnight ago but recovered to score a crucial try shortly before half-time and earn a lead at the break and the kicking games of both he and five-eighth Brock Lamb are improving week to week. The forward pack will be close to full-strength when Jamie Buhrer returns in a week or two; last game Mitch Barnett was a pillar of strength (52 tackles and three offloads) while young prop Daniel Saifiti continues to make an impact (try, four tackle busts and two offloads v Penrith).
 Telstra Premiership: Paul Vaughan vs Daniel Saifiti
All Runs, All Run Metres, Tackles, Offloads.
The history: Played 33; Dragons 23; Knights 10. The Knights have lost four straight at Kogarah since their previous win there back in 2009. They have also lost four straight and eight of the past nine against the Dragons.
What are the odds: Sportsbet customers have been snapping up the big price for the Knights, with 50 per cent more money taken on Newcastle to cause the upset. Knights 1-12 is the most popular winning margin, and 80 per cent of money at the line is with Newcastle. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Adam Gee; Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds; Touch judges: Jason Walsh and Clayton Sharpe; Review Official: Ben Galea; Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 4pm. Fox Sports – Live from 3.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: The Knights are right in this one but given their poor record both at the ground and against the Dragons we'll tip the Red V to right the ship with a six-point win.