With the Origin period two-thirds complete, the Telstra Premiership resumes with Thursday night's first v last battle.
And with so many players (nine) juggling rep commitments with club footy, the Dragons might not be the sure things the ladder would suggest.
Coach Paul McGregor will carefully check the condition of his troops before finalising a 17-man team to face the Eels but at this stage Tyson Frizell is the only star to be rested. It's a tricky one because he also can't afford to field a reserve-grade side against a team with nothing to lose, especially with the battle for the minor premiership so tight.
Parramatta gave the Rabbitohs a minor scare a fortnight ago when they charged out to a 14-6 lead and were the better team for most of the first half.
But they ended up being flogged and remain dead last with a dismal 3-12 record. The Eels really only have pride to play for over the final third of the season but might quietly like their chances if the Dragons don't have their usual soldiers leading the charge.
Key match-up: Corey Norman enjoyed a brief return to form when Parra beat the Cowboys in round 14 before he and the rest of the Eels received a lesson from Souths the following week. Norman has to take charge early and put his stamp on the game in his battle with Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop, who is expected to back up after Sunday's Test against New Zealand in Denver.
For the Dragons to win: Having most if not all of their nine rep players back on deck will be a major factor in how the Dragons function against the lowly Eels. If they are just close to full strength, they should have too much firepower all over the park. The Dragons also have more to play for and will be ready to extinguish a possible early ambush like the one Parra hit Souths with in round 15.
For the Eels to win: It might seem like mission impossible given that it's 1 v 16, but Parra could cause an upset if some of their big names like Norman, Jarryd Hayne, Michael Jennings and Nathan Brown play out of their skin. The Dragons have been vulnerable to little moments of slippage during games and might get nervous if the Eels can manage to keep it close down the stretch.
Dragons Stat Attack: St George prop James Graham will play his 150th NRL game if he backs up from the Denver Test.
Eels Stat Attack: If the previous years are anything to go off then the Eels have reason to be confident, having won their last six games against St George Illawarra.
And another thing: Parramatta and St George battled out rugby league's first drawn grand final in 1977, with scores locked at 9-9 at the end of 80 minutes. When 10 minutes each way couldn't break the deadlock, both teams returned to the Sydney Cricket Ground a few days later for an unprecedented grand final replay. The Dragons dominated the replayed grand final, winning 22-0. Amazingly the 1978 grand final between Manly and Cronulla also finished in a draw (11-11), with the Sea Eagles prevailing 16-0 in the replay.
Match: Dragons v Eels
Round 16 -
Venue: WIN Stadium
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
St George Illawarra Dragons v Parramatta Eels, Thursday 7.50pm 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 Jacob Host, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin
Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Jason Nightingale, 17 Luciano Leilua, 18 Blake Lawrie
Leeson Ah Mau has been left out of the final 17 for the Dragons following a lengthy trip back from the Denver Test. Jai Field and Hame Sele were the two other players omitted an hour before game time. Jack De Belin has been named despite copping another knock to his hip in Origin but back-rower Tyson Frizell, who passed a HIA test in the first half of Origin II, will sit out a week. Jacob Host starts with Luciano Leilua on the bench. Leeson Reece Robson, Darren Nicholls and Patrick Herbert were dropped off an extended bench 24 hours out from kick-off.
Eels: 1 Clint Gutherson (c), 2 Bevan French, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Jarryd Hayne, 5 George Jennings, 6 Mitchell Moses, 7 Corey Norman, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Cameron King, 10 Siosaia Vave, 11 Marata Niukore, 12 Brad Takairangi, 13 Nathan Brown
Interchange: 14 Will Smith, 15 Tim Mannah (c), 16 David Gower, 17 Peni Terepo
The Eels will start 1-17 after Kirisome Auva'a, Kane Evans and Jaeman Salmon were taken off the bench an hour before kick-off. Mitch Moses's return from a knee injury in the halves pushes Clint Gutherson to fullback, Bevan French to the wing and Josh Hoffman out of the side. Siosaia Vave starts for Tim Mannah (bench). Marata Niukore starts in the back row with Manu Ma'u (fractured cheek) out. Will Smith replaces Reed Mahoney (suspension) on the bench. Suaia Matagi was dropped off the bench 24 hours out from kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 33; Eels 17 wins, Dragons 14 wins, 2 draws
Matches at venue: Played 6; Dragons 3 wins, Eels 2 wins, 1 draw
Previous result: Eels won 24-10 at ANZ Stadium in round 15, 2017
Points per game: Dragons 25.1; Eels 14.5
Points conceded per game: Dragons 15.4; Eels 23.6
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: The Dragons will be hoping their Test and Origin stars back up and take the field on Thursday night during a heavy workload. It was a great start to the season for the Red V, but this period will challenge them physically and mentally. The Eels just need to win and they need an almighty effort from the 17 that take the field. Tip: Dragons by 10