Date: Saturday, September 12 2015

Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Kick-Off: 5:50pm AEST

Bulldogs: 1 Brett Morris 2 Curtis Rona 3 Josh Morris 4 Tim Lafai 5 Sam Perrett 6 Josh Reynolds 7 Moses Mbye 8 Aiden Tolman 9 Damien Cook 10 James Graham (c) 11 Josh Jackson 12 Frank Pritchard 13 Greg Eastwood Interchange: 14 Sam Kasiano 15 Shaun Lane 16 David Klemmer 17 Tim Browne 19 Lloyd Perrett

Dragons: 1 Josh Dugan 2 Eto Nabuli 3 Euan Aitken 4 Peter Mata’utia 5 Jason Nightingale 6 Drew Hutchison 7 Benji Marshall 8 Leeson Ah Mau 9 Mitch Rein 10 Mike Cooper 11 Tyson Frizell 12 Jake Marketo 13 Trent Merrin Interchange: 14 George Rose 15 Ben Creagh (c) 16 Mark Ioane 17 Jack de Belin 18 Justin Hunt 19 Nathan Green 21 Craig Garvey

Preview

Last year’s Grand Finalist Canterbury Bulldogs face a sudden death clash against St George-Illawarra Dragons on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium.

It’s familiar territory for the Bulldogs as they survived a trip to Melbourne, a dramatic win over Manly and grand final qualifier against Penrith to make their way into last year’s decider.  They look the most likely of the bottom four sides in the finals series to make serious inroads in the knockout stage of the competition.

On Sunday they escaped with a four point victory over New Zealand Warriors in the knowledge that victory would elevate their side to fifth place on the table thanks to Cronulla’s defeat against Manly earlier in the afternoon. Canterbury have the form leading into the finals series with their last defeat against minor premiers Sydney Roosters back on July 31 where they looked in all sorts at 22-0 down, to fight back and take the lead 28-22 before eventually going down 38-28.

There will be debate whether the Bulldogs can make an impact on the finals series without Knights bound Trent Hodkinson. In last year’s final series Hodkinson’s impact in attack was limited with one try and no try assists.  What it will come down to is whether Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye can be effective with their kicking game.

If their starting thirteen wasn’t strong enough, their bench packed with plenty of hard-hitting forwards will be another dilemma for the Dragons.  Sam Kasiano and David Klemmer have representative experience while Shaun Lane and Tim Browne are steady performers.  They also have the option of Lloyd Perrett as eighteenth man.

Des Hasler gave Brett Morris last week off which means a positional change for Sam Perrett to the wing.  Chase Stanley drops out of the side.

It won’t be an easy night for the Bulldogs if St George-Illawarra are solid in defence whilst Benji Marshall puts on a show.  A distraction for the side going into the elimination game is Josh Dugan’s desire to follow in the footsteps of Jarryd Hayne and consider having a go in the NFL.

Their form going into the finals series has been on the improve having won four of their last six games.  Last Saturday night they were comfortable leaders on the hour before handing Wests Tigers the game on a platter to take the game into golden point.  The Dragons last victory against any of the 2015 National Rugby League finalists came back on May 31 when they thrashed Cronulla Sharks at Jubilee Oval by 42-6.

Gareth Widdop is considered a 50/50 chance to play despite not being named in this week’s side.  It would be a huge boost for the Dragons if Widdop was fit to play as he’s been in fine form over the last part of the season.  Otherwise it’s big shoes to fill for rookie Drew Hutchison with only a handful of top grade matches in front of what is expected to be a healthy crowd between two Sydney sides at rugby league headquarters.

Paul McGregor has added Mark Ioane, Craig Garvey and Justin Hunt to an extended seven man bench in an otherwise unchanged side from last weekend.

Saturday night’s winner is set to face the loser of Friday night’s Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm game in week two of the finals.

Prediction Bulldogs by 10.

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