By the time this game comes around, either the Panthers, the Sea Eagles and possibly the Cowboys will be on the edge of their seats, riding the Canterbury Bulldogs home. If the Dragons win, one of those teams will be organising “Mad Monday” and watching the 2017 finals. If the Dogs win, the Dragons will stay on the outer. So yes, this is a huge game for many.
LAST TIME OUT
The St George Illawarra Dragons had a strange start to their game day when star player Josh Dugan was inexplicably ruled out an hour before the game due to disciplinary reasons. It later came out that Dugan had missed the team bus to the game, and as this wasn’t his first alleged indiscretion, coach Paul McGregor made the call to make Dugan a late scratching.
It didn’t seem to hamper the Dragons as they put in a spirited effort in front of a big Penrith crowd who were willing their own team towards another win to help propel them up the ladder. The Dragons went back to what had worked so well at the beginning of the season, letting their forwards do the talking, and this approach resulted in Paul Vaughan crashing over to open the scoring. In a game that become tougher to play in due to the weather conditions, the Dragons did just enough to grab a valuable two points from the foot of the mountains.
Fans of the Canterbury Bulldogs would have a bittersweet feeling while watching their team play right now. The finals are long gone, but they would be thinking that if their team had played in the style they are currently playing, the finals would more than likely be a reality instead of a fantasy. Once again, the Bulldogs played an enterprising brand of rugby league with hooker Michael Lichaa well and truly off the leash and causing havoc. The forwards are playing a simple game in that they are only looking to build a foundation, and the halves and backline are receiving early, quality ball when they want it. The struggling Gold Coast Titans had no answers, and the final score flattered them if anything.
The forward battle will be the key to success for both teams in this game. The Dragons will want to control the Bulldogs in the middle third of the field to enable their halves to take over, just like they did in the earlier half of the season and are trying to do once again now. Funnily enough, the Bulldogs have also figured out that this works and will be trying to do the same thing. The Bulldog props playing as focal ball players has taken a back seat, and they are looking much better for it.
This won’t be lost on Paul MacGregor and his team. If they are to win, it has to start up front. This is a different Bulldogs team to the one they faced in Round 14, yet they weren’t good enough to beat them on that day. This is also a different Dragons team. It promises to be an enthralling, physical clash. The team who wins the physical battle should walk off victors.
The Dragons will come into this game knowing that there are no more tomorrow’s if they lose, and they will also know the rejuvenated Bulldogs team would love nothing more than to knock them out of finals contention. Both sides will have similar game plans, so whichever team takes the most of their opportunities will be the one that wins. It sounds simple, but this kind of game will come down to just one opportunity. There won’t be much in it, but the Dragons should do enough to not only win, but sneak into the finals.
Dragons by 4
Dragons v Bulldogs, Sunday 3 September, 4.00pm at ANZ Stadium
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Josh Dugan 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Kurt Mann 8. Leeson Ah Mau 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin 14. Tariq Sims 15. Hame Sele 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Josh McCrone 18. Will Matthews 19. Kalifa Faifai Loa 20. Taane Milne 21. Luciano Leilua
1. William Hopoate 2. Chase Stanley 3. Josh Morris 4. Brenko Lee 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Matt Frawley 7. Moses Mbye 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Michael Lichaa 10. James Graham 11. Josh Jackson 12. Adam Elliot 13. David Klemmer 14. Sam Kasiano 15. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 16. Danny Fualalo 17. Francis Tualau 19. Rhyse Martin 20. Josh Reynolds 22. Andy Saunders 23. Kerrod Holland
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