Dragons v Raiders: Stars cleared to play for both teams
Whether it's good management, good fortune or a bit of both, the Dragons have enjoyed a charmed run with injuries in 2018, allowing coach Paul McGregor to continually name the same team every week.
That kind of sustained luck is almost unheard of in a heavy contact sport like rugby league and the Dragons made the most of it, winning eight of their first 10 games to be all alone in top spot.
Last week they were out-played for just the second time this season and they need to get straight back on the horse like they did when they recovered from the round seven road loss to the Warriors by thrashing the Roosters and Storm.
The Raiders have had a good record against the Dragons over the years and will be hoping that plays on their opponents' minds. Canberra had won four of five before stumbling at home last week against a hungrier Sharks outfit.
It's a home game for the Dragons, but it is being played at Mudgee and might draw a few Raiders fans out of the woodwork. Not sure if we'll see a Viking clap though.
Match: Dragons vs Raiders
Venue: Glen Willow Oval
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: The Dragons have been so impressive this season that almost every player is apparently in line for Origin selection, and that includes Euan Aitken. The reality is that he is probably still a year away from the Origin arena, but there are plenty of pundits who reckon the 22-year-old is ready. Aitken loves being assigned defensive challenges by coach Paul McGregor and he has one on his hands on Sunday against Joey Leilua. NSW coach Brad Fittler will be watching to see how Aitken handles the robust Leilua, who is 12kg heavier than the Dragons centre.
For the Dragons to win: Put off their game by an enthusiastic Rabbitohs outfit last week, they have to be the aggressor against a big Canberra pack. The Raiders have been a bit of a bogey side for the Dragons and will probably look to make a statement in the first 20 minutes. The Dragons need to nullify Canberra's power game, while Ben Hunt has to take charge after an ordinary performance against the Bunnies.
For the Raiders to win: They were on track for their fifth win in six games last week before being overrun in the second half by a more committed Sharks side. The 11th-placed Raiders have a 4-6 record and need to approach Sunday's clash with a finals-like intensity and hope the competition leaders are suddenly feeling a little vulnerable after being humbled by Souths.
Dragons stat attack: Long-serving Dragons winger Jason Nightingale has scored five tries in his last five games against the Raiders. Last week the Dragons had less errors and less missed tackles than Souths. They also had more time in possession and only a slightly inferior completion rate, but still lost by 14.
Raiders stat attack: Classy captain Jarrod Croker needs four points to reach 100 for the ninth consecutive season. He is second among the leading point-scorers, with Gareth Widdop in top spot with 110.
And another thing: Here's hoping the great historical town of Mudgee is treated to a cracker of a game on Sunday. Glen Willow Oval has a ground record of almost 9500, which is just under the 10,000 capacity. Not a bad effort in a town where the population is about 11,000. Bush people love their footy and you can bet this clash has been the talk of the town all week.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Canberra Raiders, Sunday 2pm at Glen Willow, Mudgee
Dragons: 1 Matt 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 Blake Lawrie
Once again coach Paul McGregor has named a full-strength squad, with Jack de Belin (hip) and Ben Hunt (quad) right to play. Mitch Allgood and Hame Sele were cut from the initial 21-man squad on Saturday. Reece Robson and Zac Lomaz were omitted an hour before kick-off.
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Nick Cotric, 3 Jarrod Croker (c), 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Iosia Soliola, 9 Siliva Havili, 16 Charlie Gubb, 11 Joseph Tapine, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 13 Josh Papalii
Interchange: 14 Ata Hingano, 15 Luke Bateman, 10 Shannon Boyd, 17 Dunamis Lui
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has finalised his line-up with five-eighth Blake Austin (ankle) cleared to play. Charlie Gubb has been promoted to the starting side with Shannon Boyd back on the bench. Stuart cut Sam Williams and Craig Garvey from his squad 24 hours before kick-off. Liam Knight and Michael Oldfield were omitted from the game-day side.
Head-to-head: Played 28; Raiders 17 wins, Dragons 10 wins, 1 draw
Matches at venue: No matches at this venue
2017 result: Raiders won 18-14 at GIO Stadium in round 19
Points per game: Dragons 27.4; Raiders 22.3
Points conceded per game: Dragons 14.6; Raiders 21.6
Televised: Live on Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: It was a flat performance from the Dragons following their second loss of the season last weekend to the Rabbitohs. Their halves were put under pressure and they failed to build any pressure, an area that has been a strong point in 2018. I expect the Saints to bounce back against a Canberra side that forgot how to close out a match. The Raiders were up 16-8 into the second half against the Sharks and because of poor game management, Canberra were unable to get the win.
Tip: Dragons by 6