Dragons v Sharks: Dugan back but Moylan stays No.1
Can anybody stop the Dragons? The Sharks are certainly one team that would like to think so.
But after back-to-back wins over Parramatta and Melbourne, Cronulla were humbled at home by the Roosters last week. And let's not forget what happened in round two when they surrendered a 14-0 lead in a home game against the Dragons and lost 20-16. A second loss would guarantee their cross-town rivals bragging rights for 2018.
The red-hot Dragons rolled to their fifth win from as many starts last week, though coach Paul McGregor might've been a bit concerned after his team allowed the Rabbitohs to score two late tries. McGregor will be making sure there is no complacency against the Shire boys.
Key match-up: In a clash featuring a number of mouth-watering match-ups, let's go with the old bull versus the young bull – Paul Gallen against Jack de Belin. Turning 37 in August, Gallen has 24 NSW Origin appearances under his belt, while 27-old de Belin has none. A member of the NSW extended squad last year, de Belin has been tipped to make his Blues debut this year. A strong performance against fellow lock Gallen will undoubtedly help his prospects.
For the Dragons to win: If the unbeaten Dragons don't change a thing from the first five rounds they should do just fine against their cross-town rivals. Of course, coach Paul McGregor has been around rugby league too long to believe it's that simple and will be making sure his players aren't patting each other's backs too much. But the Dragons – like the Warriors – are playing with such confidence and conviction they will be hard to stop.
For the Sharks to win: First and foremost the Sharks need everybody on the same page. They've shown promising signs over their first five games but looked disjointed and frustrated for long periods of last week's home loss to the Roosters. Even with Josh Dugan available, Matt Moylan is probably Cronulla's best fullback. But Moylan is also their best five-eighth but has been named at the back this week with Trent Hodkinson wearing the No.6. The Sharks will give themselves a great chance if they out-point the Dragons forwards and apply constant defensive pressure to playmakers Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop.
Dragons stat attack: Reckon Gareth Widdop is in form? The Englishman leads the NRL in four categories – points (62), goals (29), try assists (9) and line-break assists (8). Ben Hunt has provided everything the Dragons hoped he would, but Widdop is on track for a career-best season at the age of 29.
Sharks stat attack: Andrew Fifita has been putting his hand up for work with his 91 overall runs ranking him second in the NRL behind Blake Ferguson (92). On the down side, Fifita has given away eight penalties (3rd). He is one of two Sharks players in the top five for conceded penalties, with Jayden Brailey guilty of seven. Not a good sign when you're about to play the competition's most prolific goal-kicker.
And another thing: The Sharks are no doubt still seething about letting a 14-0 slip when they hosted the Dragons in round two so revenge will be on their minds. The Dragons are the NRL's leading attacking team with 30.8 points per game and are also getting the job in defence, conceding 12 points per game. Cronulla get a pass mark in defence, giving up 15.2 points per match, but they have struggled in attack with 13.7 points per game.
Tip: Dragons by 8.
Match: Dragons vs Sharks
Venue: WIN Stadium
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks, 7.50pm Friday at WIN Stadium
Dragons: 1 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin
Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Hame Sele
The unbeaten Dragons are 1-17, with Zac Lomax and Jacob Host dropped an hour before kick-off. The only change to the team that beat Souths last week is Hame Sele taking Luciano Leilua's place on the interchange bench.
Sharks: 1 Matt Moylan, 2 Edrick Lee, 3 Josh Dugan, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Valentine Holmes, 6 Trent Hodkinson, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Wade Graham (c), 13 Paul Gallen (c)
Interchange: 14 Kurt Capewell, 15 Kurt Dillion, 16 Avagalu Seumanufagai, 17 Joseph Paulo
The Sharks have stuck with their original 17-man team named on Tuesday. Josh Dugan (groin) returns at centre, with Matt Moylan holding onto the fullback role and Trent Hodkinson still at five-eighth. Edrick Lee returns on the wing with Sosaia Feki out. Ramien and Jack Williams were omitted an hour before kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 41; Dragons 21 wins, Sharks 19 wins, 1 draw
Matches at venue: Played 6; Dragons 5 wins, Sharks 1 win
2017 results: Dragons won 16-10 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round 3; Sharks won 18-14 at Jubilee Oval in round 10
Points per game: Dragons 30.8 (1st); Sharks 13.6 (14th)
Points conceded per game: Dragons 12 (2nd); Sharks 15.2 (7th)
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League