A month ago the Dragons were on a four-game winning streak and confident of toppling the high-flying Roosters on Anzac Day.
Not only did they lose that battle, they dropped the next three games as well.
Injuries haven't helped, but then injuries haven't been kind to Manly, Cronulla and a few other teams that have managed to keep competing and performing consistently at a fairly high level.
But the Sharks let standards slip and didn't aim up against Manly last week, so they will be eager to bounce back against a side down on confidence.
Match: Dragons v Sharks
Round 11 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
Dragons: After a huge loss to the Knights in Mudgee, coach Paul McGregor made several changes, dropping fullback Matt Dufty and winger Mikaela Ravalawa to the reserves. Zac Lomax shifts to fullback, Euan Aitken returns to the starting side at centre, Jonus Pearson makes his club debut on the wing, young hooker Reece Robson gets his first game of 2019 on the bench and Korbin Sims returns from a broken arm on the bench. Mitch Allgood and Ravalawa were cut from the reserves on Saturday while Dufty and Josh Kerr were omitted an hour before kick-off.
Sharks: Matt Moylan returns from a hamstring injury after missing seven matches and will play fullback in jersey No.21. Josh Dugan moves from fullback to wing and Aaron Gray drops out of the side named on Tuesday. Sione Katoa and Billy Magoulias were cut from the reserves 24 hours out from kick-off and Scott Sorensen was omitted an hour before game time.
Once again the heat is on Ben Hunt to prove he can carry a team when the chips are down. Hunt has a tough duel on his hands against the underrated Chad Townsend, while Tyson Frizell would've worked out that Briton Nikora doesn't fear the NRL's more experienced backrowers and needs a big game with the Origin series around the corner.
For the Dragons to win
It's make-or-break time for the Dragons. A fifth straight loss will virtually bury their top-eight chances, while a win could be a springboard to a strong mid-season run. They need to get back to basics defensively and get some more aggression into their game, while some of the younger players have to step up, especially when the going gets tough.
For the Sharks to win
Off their game defensively last week, the Sharks can't allow the desperate Dragons to get away to a good start. They need to take control from the get-go and get them into a Sharks-style contest. Josh Dugan has to produce the goods more often and cut down his mistakes, while Townsend will be out to make amends after a relatively quiet game against the Sea Eagles.
Brett Kimmorley says
The Dragons are coming off a massive loss in Mudgee and have slipped down the pecking order from a few weeks ago when I thought they could win the premiership. It's a big day for Ben Hunt: he can build pressure with a good kicking game, and when he runs the ball he's at his best. For the Sharks I thought Jayden Brailey was great for them last week, but they probably just made too many errors against Manly. I expect them to respond this week. Sharks by 6.
Andrew Fifita's 35 off-loads leads the NRL, while Josh Dugan has committed a league-high 21 errors. Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes is the top tackler (486), while the Sharks lead all teams in line break assists (32).
And another thing ...
The Dragons swept the Sharks in two meetings last year. After winning their round two clash 20-16, the Dragons ran riot in a 40-20 thrashing in round six. Paul McGregor will settle for a one-point victory on Sunday in this highly-anticipated local derby.