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Dragons v Sea Eagles: Changes for Manly, Nightingale still benched

After taking stock with the previous week's bye, the Dragons (10-3) had to work for every bit of last week's 18-16 defeat of the Bulldogs, consolidating their spot in the top four.

And it was much needed, as fellow top four rivals Penrith, the Rabbitohs and the Warriors all won their respective games to keep the pressure on.

The Dragons haven't come out of the Origin period unscathed yet, but they remain well placed to clinch a home final with a strong second half of the season.

Manly started well against the Warriors last week in Christchurch, controlling the opening 20 minutes before crashing to a 34-14 defeat and slipping to 4-10 for the season. Given their assured performance early in the game, it was hard to fathom how they lost momentum so swiftly and never got it back.

If the Sea Eagles don't produce a special effort against one of the competition heavy hitters on Saturday they could be in for a long afternoon.

Dragons v Sea Eagles - Round 15

Key match-up: Good as Matt Dufty is, he might not get a look in with the NSW Origin team for quite some time. James Tedesco was man of the match in game one and has the fullback spot as long as he wants it, while Tom Trbojevic is next in line. But the battle for the No.1 jersey becomes wide open if those two were out. Dufty knows where he stands in the pecking order and will be pumped to over-shadow 'Turbo Tom' on Saturday night in Wollongong.

For the Dragons to win: As long as they don't underestimate the Sea Eagles, the Dragons should have little trouble notching their 11th win from 14 games. Their Origin-strength back-row of Jack de Belin, Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell should have too much size and speed on the edges, while Ben Hunt will be looking forward to his clash with Daly Cherry-Evans.

For the Sea Eagles to win: Big Marty Taupau is going to have to be his usual damaging self and the Manly back-rowers will have to be on their toes against what many say is the best back-row trio in the NRL. Trbojevic and Cherry-Evans will have shoulder most of the responsibility to create scoring chances, particularly with dynamic hooker Api Koroisau sidelined with a broken foot.

Dragons Stat Attack: The Dragons will be looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd where they have seen mostly positive results, having won four of their past five games at WIN Stadium. Centre Euan Aitken scored four tries in two games against the Sea Eagles in 2017.

Sea Eagles Stat Attack: Manly will be looking to put in a big performance for their winger Akuila Uate who will play his 200th NRL game. Uate made his debut during the 2008 season for the Knights and has scored 129 first-grade tries to date.

And another thing: The Dragons and Sea Eagles have met three times in the grand final. After losing to the Dragons in 1957 and '59, Manly turned the tables almost 40 years later with a 20-8 triumph over in the '96 premiership decider. Scoring tries for the Sea Eagles were Craig Innes, Steve Menzies and Danny Moore, while Nick Zisti crossed for the Dragons. The Menzies try was scored in controversial circumstances, with Manly fullback Matt Ridge allowed to run after appearing to be tackled in the closing seconds of the first half. Menzies crossed beside the posts on the next play, giving the Sea Eagles a 14-2 half-time lead.

St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, Saturday 5.30pm at WIN Stadium

Dragons: 1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Kurt Mann, 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 Jason Nightingale, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Jacob Host

The Dragons have named an unchanged side from the one which downed the Bulldogs 18-16 on Monday. Kurt Mann again gets the nod on the left wing ahead of veteran Jason Nightingale, who remains on the bench. Nightingale received only limited minutes in Monday's match. After Reece Robson and Hame Sele were trimmed from the reserves on Friday night, Blake Lawrie and Patrick Herbert were omitted an hour out from kick-off.

Sea Eagles: 1 Tom Trbojevic, 2 Jorge Taufua, 3 Moses Suli, 4 Brian Kelly, 5 Akuila Uate, 6 Trent Hodkinson, 7 Daly Cherry-Evans (c), 8 Addin Fonua-Blake, 14 Matthew Wright 10 Martin Taupau, 11 Joel Thompson, 12 Frank Winterstein, 13 Jake Trbojevic

Interchange: 15 Brad Parker, 16 Shaun Lane, 17 Taniela Paseka, 18 Thomas Wright

Manly coach Trent Barrett has moved Matt Wright into the starting line-up at hooker after 19-year-old Manase Fainu was ruled ineligible. Moses Suli returns in the centres after being dropped for disciplinary reasons last week. Suli's return forces Brad Parker to the interchange. Frank Winterstein comes into the starting side in the second row and Shaun Lane moves to the bench. Lloyd Perrett was cut from the reserves 24 hours out from kick-off. Lewis Brown and Toafofoa Sipley were dropped from the bench an hour before kick-off.

Head-to-head: Played
Matches at venue: Played
2017 results: Dragons won 35-10 at Lottoland in round 6; Dragons won 52-22 at WIN Stadium in round 20
Points per game: Dragons 24.5; Sea Eagles 20.9
Points conceded per game: Dragons 16.0; Sea Eagles 23.7
Televised: Live on Fox League

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