The struggling Canterbury Bulldogs take on the second-placed St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium on Monday afternoon.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Bulldogs are coming into this match on the back of two straight losses. Their last match in Round 12 they held the lead for the majority of the match before a late try sealed the win for the Tigers. They competed and fought hard in that game as they have all season but they still struggle in attack and lack the polish to finish off games. With just three wins so far this year, the pressure is already building for coach Dean Pay.
St George Illawarra Dragons
After a brilliant start to the year in which they raced to the top of the ladder, the Dragons have dropped two of their last three matches, the lowlight a 28-2 thrashing at the hands of the Panthers in a top of the table clash. They still boast a scary amount of talent but they will be keen to show they are still premiership contenders with a strong win over a side sitting near the bottom of the ladder.
Kieran Foran is out with a toe injury, with Jeremy Marshall-King moving to the halves and Michael Lichaa recalled into the side at hooker. David Klemmer is backing up after Origin, pushing Adam Elliott to lock and Rhyse Martin back to the bench. Aiden Tolman returns to the bench after an ankle injury and Clay Priest drops to the reserves.
St George Illawarra Bulldogs
The Dragons have named an unchanged lineup from their Round 12 clash against the Panthers
The two sides sit at opposite ends of the ladder but this is a match that could go either way. The Bulldogs hold the wood over the Dragons in recent times and the Dragons have shown worrying signs of dropping over the last few weeks.
The Dragons could be vulnerable with a number of their stars backing up from State of Origin on Wednesday night, including star halfback Ben Hunt who is still recovering from a corked thigh. If those players, particularly their key forwards in Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell and Jack De Belin aren’t at their best, the still dangerous Bulldogs pack could take advantage.
The issue for the Bulldogs all season has been their inability to score points. Their finals hopes have all but disappeared in 2018 but they will still be keen to show improvement in the second half of the year that they can take into next season. They are without key playmaker Kieran Foran for this clash, and while he has been nowhere near his best this year, it makes the task a lot more difficult against a strong Dragons side.
This looks like a match that should be decided in the middle of the field, and the key battle there will be between Aaron Woods and Paul Vaughan. Woods won’t struggle for motivation coming up against the man that took his spot in the New South Wales side.
Vaughan has been knocking on the door for Origin for the last two years but finally got his chance in Game One on Wednesday night, at the expense of 14-game-veteran Woods. Vaughan had a relatively quiet night by his standards for the Blues so will be keen to put in a big performance for the Dragons to get his team back on track.
Woods would no doubt have been very disappointed to be omitted from the Blues this year, and should be fired up for this clash. He hasn’t quite lived up to his big salary in 2018 but has still put in some solid performances so look for him to get plenty of ball.
The Bulldogs have won 11 of their past 12 matches against the Dragons.
Bulldogs: 1 Moses Mbye, 2 Brett Morris, 3 John Olive, 4 Will Hopoate, 5 Marcelo Montoya, 6 Jeremy Marshall-King, 7 Matt Frawley, 8 Aaron Woods, 9 Michael Lichaa, 10 David Klemmer, 11 Josh Jackson, 12 Raymond Faitala-Mariner, 13 Adam Elliott
Interchange: 14 Rhyse Martin, 15 Kerrod Holland, 16 Renouf Toomaga, 17 Aiden Tolman
Reserves: 19 Reimis Smith, 20 Clay Priest, 21 Greg Eastwood, 23 Lachlan Lewis
Dragons: 1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack de Belin
Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Blake Lawrie
Reserves: 18 Patrick Herbert, 19 Jacob Host, 20 Reece Robson, 21 Luciano Leilua
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Monday 11 June
Venue: ANZ Stadium
WHO WILL WIN?
This definitely won’t be an easy win for the Dragons, and their record against the Bulldogs will be playing on their minds. However, they are still one of the best teams in the competition and they should be too strong for a Bulldogs team who simply struggles to put points on the board.
Dragons by 6