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PREVIEW: St. George Illawarra Dragons vs South Sydney Rabbitohs

The Dragons will look to edge closer to a cemented spot in the top eight after a disappointing loss to the Knights last weekend, taking on a Rabbitohs side at the Sydney Cricket Ground that are seeing the season out, playing for pride more than points. Both teams will field strong squads, in a game that on paper looks easy to call.

Last Time Out:

The Dragons travelled up to Newcastle to take on the Knights, a side who have had another horrendous season and looking likely to grab their third straight wooden spoon. The Dragons were coming off a huge 52-22 win over the Sea Eagles; a win that many believed would rejuvenate their campaign. The Knights started off the better side, with the bulk of possession early on and converting their chances. A cheeky grubber kick and re-gather from Brock Lamb gave the Knights an early lead, before a bomb kick was brilliantly recovered by Shaun Kenny-Dowall to extend the Knights advantage to 12-0 after 11 minutes. The Dragons began to hit their stride, with great passing out back to nearly set up Jason Nightingale for their first try, but he failed to stay in field. The shift in possession paid dividends eventually, with Paul Vaughan breaking a few tackles to score in the 23rd minute. Two tries later on were disallowed, both Tim Lafai and Nene Macdonald going agonisingly close, but the bunker saw otherwise both times with a knock on and obstruction respectively. A late penalty saw the Knights lead 14-6 going into half time. A try to Tariq Sims and a penalty goal from Widdop levelled the scores, and the Dragons had many chances to put the Knights away, highlighted by a great run from Macdonald until Dufty knocked the ball on. The Knights though took their opportunity, with a great off load from Josh King seeing Jacob Saifiti score close to the posts, giving the home side a 20-14 lead. Moments later, the Knights were in attacking position again and Trent Hodkinson stepped up to kick a field goal, and win the game 21-14 for Newcastle. A disappointing performance from the Red V sees their season take a nervous turn with wins to both Penrith and Canberra, closing the gap between 8th and 10th on the ladder.

The Rabbitohs hosted the Raiders on Saturday night, with the visitors still statistically in contention of the top eight, but needing to win the remainder of their games, and win them convincingly to solidify a spot in the eight. The Bunnies got a dream start when an awkward kickoff trapped the Raiders in goal, giving the Rabbitohs an early attacking set within the Raiders’ own half. A missed opportunity though would see the Raiders’ regain possession for a period of time, and from there strike first. Jarrod Crocker and Joe Tapine both scored, adding to a penalty goal to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead after 20 minutes. Cody Walker satisfied some fans with a terrific solo effort to bring the scores to 14-6, and give the Bunnies life. Youngster Nick Cotric though hit back, scoring his 12th try of the season with a great play on the left edge, and extending the lead back to 14 points going into half time. In the 47th minute Sam Burgess was taken from the field with injured ribs, but the Rabbitohs managed to score with a great kick from Adam Reynold to reduce the deficit back to 8 points. The Raiders enjoyed the bulk of possession in the game, and a better completion rate saw them take advantage of more chances. What looked to be another Canberra try was stopped by Angus Crichton, but he was unfortunately sent to the bin for a professional foul, reducing the Rabbitohs to 12 men and their chances of a victory. The Raiders struck again to extend their lead, set up by an Aidan Sezer cut out ball and Michael Oldfield diving in the corner. The Rabbitohs would score a consolation try in the last minute, but a convincing win had already been achieved as the Raiders finished 32-18 winners. The Raiders need to win their remaining five games to solidify a finals spot, and knowing the explosive quality they have, it may be enough momentum to make some noise come finals time.

Key Battle:

Cody Walker and Gareth Widdop were two of the best players through the first ten rounds of the competition. Regardless of their respective sides’ differing seasons, both men will need to be at their best to deliver a win for their side.

Walker played in the halves right up until round 10, until being moved to fullback in an attempt to improve the team’s performance from Coach Michael Maguire. The change if anything made the team worse, with Walkers’ form slipping and the team only gaining three wins from ten games. Nevertheless playing in the halves saw Walker exhibit his terrific running and kicking game, which was shown by his terrific try against the Raiders. He complements Reynolds terrifically, who possesses one of the best kicking games in the competition right now, and acts more as a playmaker than an attacker. Walkers’ play will need to be top class again if the Bunnies are to threaten the Dragons.

As I have said multiple times this year, without Gareth Widdop the Dragons would be lucky to be considered any sort of threat. Widdop has acted as the sole orchestrator in the halves, occasionally getting help from Josh McCrone or Kurt Mann. Widdop was the best player in the competition through the first few weeks, and his form has remained relatively high since. His kicking game as always, something the Dragons have struggled with all season, will need to be near-perfect, and his ability to setup his backline with great passing will also need to be good for the Dragons to come away with a win.


The Bunnies at times have shown a lot of class in their play this year, but the loss of Greg Inglis early on and  lack of depth have always come back to haunt them. The Dragons on the other hand desperately need a win. Losing to the Knights is something they must quickly forget, and playing an average Rabbitohs side is surely the way to pick them up. Tough games against the Broncos and Panthers ahead means ever point counts, and momentum going into those tough games is vital. The quality is there for the Dragons to rediscover their class they exhibited earlier this year; it comes down to whether Coach McGregor and key players act as the facilitators for much needed success. Dragons by 10.

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Dragons team: 1. Matthew Dufty 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Josh Dugan 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Josh McCrone 8. Leeson Ah Mau 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin 14. Tariq Sims 15. Jacob Host 16. Russell Packer 17. Kurt Mann 18. Hame Sele 19. Taane Milne 20. Jake Marketo 21. Luciano Leilua

Rabbitohs team: 1. Alex Johnston 2. Bryson Goodwin 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Tyrell Fuimaono 5. Robert Jennings 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Zane Musgrove 11. John Sutton 12. Angus Crichton 13. Sam Burgess 14. Robbie Farah 15. George Burgess 16. Kyle Turner 17. Cameron Murray 18. Anthony Cherrington 19. Jack Gosiewski 20. David Tyrrell 22. Campbell Graham

Aspiring sports journalist, currently studying at AUT in Auckland, New Zealand.

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